Originally published on CUInsight.com

Facts are facts. If you hear any qualifier in front of that word, they’re trying to mislead you in some way. “Alternative facts” is just the latest effort. Just because the “legitimized lying” you see now does not yet affect you doesn’t mean it won’t.

Politics and daily life intersect often, moreso within a highly-regulated industry. Any of you who attended the GAC have firsthand understanding. How you are perceived is often more important than the actual realities of a situation. If nothing else, dealing with a perception problem slows down the addressing of real issues. Imagine if one or more big banks decided, “you know, we should wipe credit unions off the map” and put together a PR/lobbying campaign with the below “alternative facts”. Think about who has the largest lobbying budget. Is it your credit union?

  • Credit unions are havens for money-laundering. Plenty of people have said it.
  • Did you know: Credit unions pay their board members the money they claim goes back to you in dividends. #notforYOURprofit
  • Some studies claim that credit unions charge lower and fewer fees. But the research is not settled. It appears to be an NCUA hoax. Many credit unions collude to perpetuate the lie. In fact, banks are always the better price option. Take a look at our “study”.

How would you as an industry respond? Or individually? Could you ignore it? No. But it’s so outlandish that some people will raise questions. Even the suggestion of such activities in the media taints all credit unions. And now you’re responding on their (made-up) topic, instead of pursuing your own mission. If it were a boxing match, you’d be the one against the ropes, even though you’re just in town for the comedy shows. How did you even end up there?

I’m sure none of you reading this would consider the other possible angle, but, what if the credit union was the instigator? Poor members. Imagine this:

You close a loan on your dream ride for 3.49%. When you receive the first statement, it declares at 5.49%. When you present the contract, they ignore you, hang up, or ask you to leave. Knowing it’s illegal, you try to speak to a consumer protection agency. Your credit union threatens to report you to collection agencies and flag you at the credit bureaus. You know you’d eventually win, but are years of credit challenges worth it?

Or another situation:

You see an unauthorized charge on your account, so you call to dispute. They claim their fraud-detection finds every occurrence, and it didn’t trigger on that one. Therefore, it is obviously not fraud. After not getting anywhere, you decide to complain on social media. They issue a gag order against you, then sue you for slander.

The latter examples are far less likely. But think about how you’ve felt when you know you’re being railroaded by a company. Powerless? Questioning if you’re actually right? Yeah, you’d never suggest becoming a credit union member ever again.

For the more likely of these scenarios, credit unions are the underdogs, and thus are vulnerable to well-funded smear campaigns. But, this all seems too extreme. No way it could happen. Right? Right?

Legitimized lying hurts everyone. We need to stand up against it in all forms.

Image credit: Pinocchio, Disney