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Why Credit Unions Must Stand Up Against “Alternative Facts”

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

Lobby In The Lobby For Your Lobby

Grammar nerds will notice the title used each version of the word: verb, noun, noun, respectively.

With the Big Event in our midst, it’s top of mind to consider how discussions outside your institution can have wide-ranging effects. From proposed regulations to promulgating existing ones, there’s a lot to your credit union which is decided by those whom you never meet.

Remember being told that every vote counts? This advice applies to your institution as well. What you don’t say cannot be discussed or considered. Every credit union thinks their members are unique; what specifically distinguishes them and does that make you more or less affected by possible legislation?

There are plenty of advocacy groups and lobbyists for the credit union industry, from CUNA to NAFCU and more. I’m not getting involved in it. However, you should. They are working in the best interests of the majority of institutions, but perhaps something they propose will create more issues than solutions for you! Think back to Rumsfeld’s “unknown unknowns”; whether you know or not, it will still create an impact. No one wants to be on the ignorant side of a situation.

What happens in DC doesn’t stay in DC. Same can be said for your own state governments. Be a voice. Create political influence. When you’re building strategic plans, do they take into account possible changes? Are you ready for “better” regulation or “worse” policies? How are you helping find a solution which works best for your institution and members?

While I wish you all an amazing time of creating Powerful Cause and Positive Effect at this year’s GAC, remember the risks of living in a silo. Think of the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth”…there are some powerful lyrics which resonate here as well: “A thousand people in the street, Singing songs and carrying signs, Mostly saying, ‘hooray for our side.'” You all know how much good credit unions can do for their communities. I’d bet those legislators consider it an “unknown unknown”. Make your Positive Effect known!

@ Isn’t Just For E-mail!

A month back, we took on the mysterious hashtag, #. Case closed. You’ve got that character down. Was it you who shared, “Tuesday our #creditunion branch served 300 members. Before lunch! #nowimhungry”?

There is another mysterious symbol hiding in plain sight. You know it as the thing in e-mails. Yes, the @. Fun fact: It has no formal name in the English language. “At sign” is the closest we have to an official reference. Spanish speakers recognize “arroba” to describe it.

It’s for more than e-mails? Yes, and it also drives all of us nuts when we have to write one on paper. It’s the (arguably) more important companion of the hashtag. Don’t tell, though. It’ll be #reallyupset.

While the hashtag identifies and unifies phrases or comments, the @ unifies people. When you put one of these little guys in front of someone’s username, it becomes a “mention”. That user then gets notified of your post. Say I shared on Twitter (tweeted): “@CUNA, great work in representing Credit Union interests nationwide!” The manager of CUNA’s Twitter account would receive a notification of my post, and they could then reply publicly by writing “@JoeCUGeek” (my Twitter handle) in their post.

All compatible services (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and many more) behave similarly. You can also make more than one mention in a post: “This #CUNAGAC is so much fun. Thank you @CUNA and @trustdotcoop for your efforts in making this possible.” Both accounts will receive a notification. Typically, public replies put the username at the beginning, while generically talking about them can be anywhere.

So you’ve got hashtags and mentions. All you need is the content! The best way to understand how these are used is to get on social media and observe, then try yourself! I always enjoy carrying a small conversation with credit unions and others over quality posts. Want to learn more? Get in touch directly @JoeCUGeek on Twitter and we’ll apply our skills together!

5/5/15 – Correction: A previous version of this post referenced and linked to an incorrect Twitter address.

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