Originally published on CUInsight.com

You’re all about openness.  Your new branch design includes sweeping halls, natural lighting, and big windows to provide a welcoming atmosphere.  That snazzy new website encourages whitespace with at-a-glance information on your latest promotions.  Of course, your staff are available to answer any questions members might have, as well as help them create a brighter financial future.

Then there’s your legal team.  An open field isn’t clear enough for them.  And that’s ok, because having an examiner woefully shaking their head is not your idea of a great day.  The lawyers want disclosures on top of disclosures, with a healthy dose of clarity, just in case something could be misinterpreted.

I’ve written about these concepts in previous posts.  Remember that “speed bump”, or website exit warning?  You don’t need it, never did, yet I still encounter them on a regular basis.  It’s tough when your in-house counsel says, “yes we do.”  If it’s between listening to me or them, I’d choose your person.  Clarity on your offerings and operations is essential as well.  We as an industry have a hard enough time getting members to even understand what a credit union is.  Don’t need them confused about what theirs can offer.

Which brings us to member understanding in the face of marketing and legal, combined.

I follow a large credit union on Twitter which embraces the idea of no fees and free accounts.  It’s a main part of their marketing.  While I’m more about finding unique ways to attract members, do what works for you.  “Free everything!” feels a bit “me too” to this geek.  Anyway, this credit union tweeted an image of two wrestlers with the copy, “Stop wrestling with fees.”  It links to their Truly Free Checking details.  The page talks about how awesome the account is and why you should just apply already! (Not quite, but that’s the idea.)  This is what appears when you click the Fees and Terms tab.

“This account doesn’t have any fees tied to a minimum balance requirement.”  And that’s it.  So there’s really no fees at all?  This is amazing!  What a super account!  Oh, wait, “…tied to a minimum balance requirement.”  This reminds me of the phone call with someone which goes, “I hope you’re enjoying your vacation!  I checked in on your house and the garage door totally looks great.”  And?

The account page has no link to the full list of fees (there aren’t any, remember?) or terms.  I dug around on the website and, after more searching than you’d expect, found a Fees page.  Unsurprisingly, it contains the standard laundry list of fees for all the items you’d expect, from check reorders to overdraft.  I’m not putting down the account.  It’s your run-of-the-mill $0 minimum balance free checking account.  Which is fine for many people.  But…

What would legal have to say?  Do you think they saw this page?  I clicked around and, yes, they do feature speed bumps on links to 3rd party partners (partners, because it’s a two-way contractual relationship).  So legal mandated this unnecessary feature, but let a checking account description get away with no disclosure of any fees or terms?

On top of the legal issue, this credit union is only setting themselves up for disappointed members.  Consider the member who wants a no-fee account.  This looks perfect, and if you’re not reading carefully, that one line sure sounds like there are no fees at all.  Imagine their frustration when they get hit with fees for checks, an accidental overdraft, or any number of other actions.

We all want to help members become more financially secure and knowledgable.  So let’s make sure our efforts don’t conflict this goal.

Image credit: Me, showing my mom demonstrate openness and clarity in Rocky Mountain National Park.