Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Ice Cream Butter

This has nothing to do with work, and in fact, it’s a personal story that I think needs to be shared in light of Storm’s latest blog.

My son, who is almost three, is one of the brightest and silliest kids I have ever met (I admit that I might be a little biased being his mom). He is frequently making up silly words for objects and people that he feels deserve more fantastic names.

On one particular day he and I were in the kitchen preparing to make a gourmet lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches. I was pulling the “ingredients” out of the fridge as he told me what we needed. It was a very serious task and he was working hard at making sure we had all the necessary items. Well, we had the bread and we had the cheese and I was asked him what the last ingredient was that we needed. He proudly and seriously announced that it was “Ice Cream Butter”.

Of course, I thought this was just his most recent attempt at making the butter seem more appealing. However, when I looked at my son, he had his hand over his mouth and look of surprise that such a silly thing could spill from his lips without his permission. He began to giggle and soon he was rolling on the floor in hysterics repeating his new word over and over again.

Now, this story in itself isn’t very memorable or spectacular. But this was the beginning of a great thing. My son now uses his silly word to relieve tension in a room, for a little comic relief now and then or just when he feels everyone needs a good laugh. This is his cue to us that we need to step outside of our world and just enjoy the moment.

My husband and I have used it a few times as well and it works its miracle every time. When our son is crying hysterically, we just need to whisper “Ice Cream Butter” in his ear and it will bring a small smile to his face and a little giggle. It helps him remove himself from the moment and focuses his attention on the small happiness he gets from hearing his silly word.

So, how does this relate to Storm’s blog? It really doesn’t, except that I think sometimes we get so caught up in blaming someone else for our inconveniences that we forget it takes the same people to maintain them for us. I think that everyone needs to step out of their world every once in a while and just enjoy the moment. Enjoy the fact that we have the ability to pay for things using a credit card so that we don’t have to make that extra trip to the bank to get cash. Enjoy the fact that there is a bank that protects our money for us and helps it grow. Enjoy the fact that there are people in this world trying to make things easier for us everyday.

My son is wise, just as most kids are. In just his first three years, he has already learned a way to help himself and others learn to dwell on the positive rather than the negative.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Are We the Culprits?

I have been reading with much interest the editorials about the recent security breach at CardSystems Solutions. One thing has become evident, consumers (or at least those who write into newspapers) really don’t like banks and credit card companies. I don’t want this blog to sound like I am trying to abscond my industry from any blame, however, I do have to take issue with the over-simplification and villianization that editorials and even reporters are resorting to.
I read an editorial last week that said that consumers would be amazed how many companies are involved in each credit card transaction. This is true. When I first started in this business and learned how many networks and companies have to be in sync to make one credit purchase happen, I couldn’t believe it (after about two weeks, my husband forced me to stop telling him about this every time we bought something). However, this editorial went on to say that the reason so many companies are involved in one credit card transaction is so that they can bilk the consumer out of as much money as possible. So not true! As a matter of fact, the opposite is true. The reason that there are so many companies involved in credit and debit transactions is so that you, the consumer, can get what you want fast and cheap.

Imagine this… imagine if you are a member of Verity Credit Union and you only wanted Verity Credit Union to “touch” your transactions. That means we would have to put one of those swiper machines in every place you do business, we would have to have our own credit reporting agency to monitor your account, we would have to have our own processors to process your VISA transaction. That would also mean that Bank of America, Key Bank, BECU, WA MU, they would all have their own swipers at the merchants, there would be hundreds of credit reporting agencies and there would be nothing like VISA, we would all have our own kind of credit card. You can quickly see how this would not work.

So we all rely on vendors for our credit and debit infrastructures. We set high standards for them, we monitor them, we do all that we can to keep information secure, that is our responsibility (and it simply makes good business sense).

When things like this security breach happen, we agonize over what to do (not, like the consumer groups have accused – do the cheapest thing). The question we are facing right now is, do we do a mass re-issue of the 2,500 cards we know were included in the info taken from CardSystems? We have decided not to go this route. The main reason, is we think it will be a major inconvenience for our members. We think the best route to is to let consumers chose what they want to do.

Do you want your credit card automatically closed for you and then you have to contact every place that currently has an automatic withdrawal coming from your account and change it so it doesn’t get rejected? If so, we will gladly close your account and get you a new plastic within a few days. However, if you are like me, you don’t want to go through that hassle, at least until there is evidence that your credit card might be at risk (the theory right now is that because of simple geography, cards in the northwest are not being touched).

I suspect we might come under fire for not doing a mass re-issue of these cards. Consumer groups may say that we are being stingy and don’t want to spend the money. I hope our members can understand that we want to give them a choice. I mean, it is the middle of summer. What if you are on vacation when we re-issue your card? You’d be away and your card would suddenly not work anymore. (that, after all, is how re-issues work. We send a new card and turn off the old card. It can’t work any other way if we are going to truly protect the card holder).

Alright, I have rambled on long enough about this dilemma. And… if you are reading this blog, know this…. The people who were on the list from CardSystems are getting a letter today (June 28). There was no hesitation in our minds that we must tell our members about this right away. If you did not get a letter, you’re lucky. I am getting a letter. I am not closing my account. I think the risk of something happening to my account is small (afterall, there are 40 million other consumers in the same boat.) And I know the hassle of contacting Hotmail, Dawgman, iTunes, Picassa and all the other places that automatically deduct from my account is great.

Oh, but one other thing… the title of the my blog. How is it that the crooks, thieves, burglars, robbers, bandits, whatever you want to call them, have gotten so little mention in all of this? How did it happen that we were robbed and then made to look like greedy, irresponsible, corporate despots? I think it says a lot about my industry. I don’t, however, think it is fair for my credit union.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

just like Animal Planet

We have a really nice building at Northgate. It’s 3 stories tall, very contemporary, with lots of glass. On Tuesday, I was in the accounting department which faces north, and a bird flew smack into the window. There was a loud thud and an explosion of feathers. We were all shocked; none of us quite sure what we should do. The bird was lying in the middle of the drive-through, motionless. I thought for sure it was dead, but Janie said she saw it moving. I was on the way back to my desk to find info on animal rescue organizations when the receptionist told me I should put it out of its misery and run it over with my car. I was seriously contemplating her suggestion when I walked back over to accounting to get another look at the bird. That’s when I saw Bill (our CEO), Jae and Brian out in the drive-through. They had picked the bird up, put it into a small box and placed it under a tree. It was actually very touching to see their concern.

But, the bird was still not showing signs of life and I decided to make some inquiries at local animal shelters. The best information I gathered was from PAWs Wildlife Center who has a hotline to call when you find an injured animal: 425-787-2500 ext. 817. Here is what they told me to do when window strikes occur:

Carefully pick up the bird and put it in a brown paper bag with the top folded over or a cardboard box with flaps or a lid. Make sure that the bird is upright -- prop it up with a supporting circle of paper towels or tissues if necessary. If the weather is very cold outside, bring the bag or box inside to warm up the stunned bird. If the weather is warm, you can leave the bag/box outside, but place it out of reach of pets. Do not try to give the bird food or water. Leave it alone in a warm, quiet, dark place and check on it every once in a while to see if it has recovered. Release it into the wild and watch for signs of injury. If the bird seems to have injuries or isn’t moving at all after a couple hours, I was told to call back the Wildlife Center.

I am happy to report that after about an hour or so, our bird was climbing its way up a tree and seemed uninjured. Thanks to Bill, Jae and Brian for their speedy action, dead-on instincts, and for their genuine love of all things furry.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Every Executive Should Leave

I don’t mean that like it sounds. What I mean is… well, I am currently preparing for my FMLA leave (aka maternity leave). The doctor has basically said that baby number two can come any day now.

Knowing that you will be gone for say, 12 weeks or so, forces you to look at what you do and ask yourself “who else can do this?” and then you must take the next step and articulate what it is you do, how you do it and train someone else to do it in your absence.

I didn’t have that luxury the first time around. Ten weeks before my due date, my first decided to speed things up a bit. (two years later she is still an impatient sort of girl). I am finding it incredibly helpful and beneficial to go through this process.

The most important thing that I have learned is that there are folks here that have real talents for things that I never suspected (who knew, Paul, our Northgate Relationship Manager, would be so good at writing radio commercials?!) I have also taken a hard look at some of the things I periodically take care of and determined that it would be more cost effective for the credit union for someone else to do them. And, I hate to admit it, there have been one or two things, that upon closer inspection, I realized, don’t really need done at all.

As I prepare to rush off at a moment’s notice, I look around my office and see a clean desk, clear instructions for other to follow, and a host of my colleagues that are now cross-trained on my duties. I know there is always grumbling when women take maternity leave. I can understand that. We definitely leave a void when we are gone and force to other others to work harder. But as I sit here, looking at my color coded new filing system, I wonder if it doesn’t do a bit of good too.

Ours Is a Good Tag Line

So, now that I live in Edmonds, I don’t see as many cool company vehicles on my way home from work. That is because my commute is now 7 miles instead of 17 (not because there are fewer cool company vehicles in Edmonds than in Kirkland). However, I did see a great one yesterday…. OK, OK, a moment of blog-truth-serum…. I don’t like our new company van. ACK! I said it! (blasphemy). I mean, I like it in the sense that it taught me a valuable lesson – you can’t slap you logo on something and expect it to be branded. So I am now always noticing really cool things you can do with a company vehicle… ok, back to the cool one I saw – Aimonetto and Son’s. What made their van so cool (I think) is their tagline “We’re On Our Way”. That is so perfect for a company that delivers high quality foods to restaurants (I googled them once I got home last night). I can just imagine myself the curator of a fancy restaurant and running out of something at the last minute. I would want to call someone whose tagline is ‘we are on our way’.

That brings me to our tag line. Verity Credit Union’s tag line is “where you truly matter”. The word verity means the state or quality of being true or real. We chose that name because truthfulness is of the utmost importance to us. It really is. So we are pulling out the meaning of our name in our tag line. See? Anyway, we also try to live by the standards that every person – be it our member (of course), our employee, our vendor, the person in our community – that they matter. What they think, want, need matters to us. Truly. I think that is a good tagline.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

When pantyhose comes in the mail, beware.

First, let me assure you that Verity will not be sending unmentionables to its members. We pride ourselves on innovative promotions and giveaways, but we do have some sense of decorum.

As a marketing professional, I am skeptical of “free” offers. I always read the fine print because, as a part of our job, we have fine print in the communications we create everyday. Nothing causes Marketing folk’s eyes to roll back up into their heads more than the disclosure and logos we have to add to our pretty brochures and ads due to Federal rules and regulations.

But that is another blog posting for another day. Back to my story.

So, my husband and I moved into our new house a year ago and we still get the occasional “Welcome to the Neighborhood here’s a free offer/service” junk mail. Most of it goes into the shredder. One day, I received an ‘intriguing’ offer for a free pair of pantyhose. This company offers the convenience of delivering pantyhose and a host of other female unmentionables to your doorstep. Don’t get me wrong—mail order and home delivery is a good thing, but I prefer to purchase such items in person at the local Target. I can’t imagine spending more than $5 on one pair of hose. It’s just going to snag on your file cabinet anyway.

The mailer I received offered a free pair of pantyhose— just choose your size, color, control-top, you name it. No obligation to buy. Just pick what you want and mail the postage-paid postcard and your free pair of pantyhose will arrive in 4-6 weeks. I scoured the mailer for any attached strings. I didn’t see any, so I went ahead and mailed it in because, after all, how could I deny myself a pair of free pantyhose?

Lo and behold, I received my pair of black pantyhose in the mail about five weeks later with a “thanks for trying us out hope you order from us in the future” note. I put the pantyhose away in my dresser drawer for future dress up opportunities.

Fast forward three and a half weeks later. I check the mail and there is a plastic bag/package from the pantyhose people. Could it be that they are sending me more free stuff?

Heck no—enclosed I find a variety of black, suntan, control top and sheer pantyhose along with this month’s invoice of $13 and change. I am cheerfully told that I can return whatever I don’t want, otherwise, please send your payment.

Color me confused. I didn’t order this stuff did I? No, all I did was check the size and color I wanted for their free offer. I know I looked for the “strings attached,” and found nothing. What the heck?

I visited their website to get their contact info and called their #800 ready to give them you-know-what. Surprisingly, my anger was diffused by their soothing, automated voice and a very short on-hold wait time. The woman on the line was very pleasant and helpful. All I told her was that I received an order I didn’t place and before I got to the part about the free offer, she cancelled my account (when did I open an account?!?!) and gave me the address to which I should send back what I had received. As I hung up, I got the distinct feeling that I was one of many unknowingly opened accounts that were cancelled that day. The process was way too smooth.

I ended up having to pay for the postage to ship the pantyhose back. Granted, the company (which will remain nameless, but you probably know who they are) does offer to refund your postage costs, but that requires a copy of a receipt, a form and yet more postage. All that work wasn’t worth $2.35.

I still haven’t worn the free pantyhose.

Another reason to love (or not hate) Texas

As a native Texan I get a little sensitive when I hear people bash the Lone Star State (which happens more often than you might think!). Sure, Texas is an easy target for ridicule. For example, I recently visited the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum in downtown San Antonio where their brochure proudly reads, “…the Buckhorn Saloon and Museum features thousands of dead animals and dead animal parts for your enjoyment.”

But, Texas has a lot of great things going for it too, like its abundance of credit unions. According to an article I read on the web, there are over 670 credit unions in the state of Texas. I was just there a couple weeks ago and I really did notice more credit unions than banks. In fact, one of the credit unions that particularly caught my eye was Velocity Credit Union in Austin, whose tagline is “If you love music, you can bank here.”

Another unique Texas credit union, based in Dallas, is Women’s Southwest Federal Credit Union. This credit union was started in 1974 after Gloria Steinem made a visit to Southern Methodist University. According to the WSFCU website, a group of activists asked Ms. Steinem what they could do for the feminist movement and she replied, “Start a credit union.”

My favorite Texas credit union is University Federal Credit Union, based in Austin, where I opened my very first checking account. My checks and ATM card (I used to call it my PULSE card) had longhorns on them and I thought that was so cool.

So, if you’re planning on going to Texas, rest assured you will have no problem finding a surcharge-free cash machine. Of course, I don’t recommend that you spend all your time driving around checking out credit unions. Be sure and eat some great Mexican food, go for an inner tube ride down the Guadalupe, dance the night away at Flores Country Store in Helotes, listen to a mariachi band on San Antonio’s River Walk and check out a Spurs Game!

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Where You Truly Matter

It's 6:00 on a Wednesday evening and I just took a quick walk around the Credit Union on my way to pick up a print job at the printer and to fill my water bottle. This little jaunt, an hour after we closed our doors, has reminded me of one reason I really like working at Verity.

I work part-time in the office and from home. I am often in the office during the evenings, especially at month-end, and it's not often that I am alone.

On this most recent walk around the office I encountered Vivian... she was sitting at her desk closing things up for the day. I often see her at her desk into the evening hours doing a little extra studying as a student of Verity University. Then I passed the conference room and saw Tony. Tony was meeting with a member and taking her mortgage application. I have often seen Tony in the office meeting with members in the evening and even on the weekend to accomodate their schedule. And then I passed member services and there was Le Ann helping a member over the phone.

I'm here after hours to do month-end because I was not in the office on Tuesday, but my coworkers are in the office to help members and to go the extra mile. I always believe in surrounding myself with great people... and at Verity Credit Union, I work with great people.