Thursday, August 31, 2006

EFy Winner - September

The following is a comment that was received from one of our members. What really comes through is the extrodinary level of support Regine provided. This support was not only providing financial advice but also emotional support. At Verity one of our core values states, "Our success flows from focus on our members." It is clear that Regine lives this value with the members she has contact with.

Also keep in mind that Regine works in our Loan Control Department. How many financial instituions have a loan control department that gets comments like this? I would guess not many.

Here is the comment the member sent:

I was recently/currently delinquent on both my car and personal loans. I would like to take a moment to say a special thank you to Regine (in your loan department). After losing my partner, my home and my job, I wasn't able to keep up my payments and I had become extremely depressed.....not only was Regine there for me emotionally, but she also stuck with me while I tried to find a way to get these accounts caught up. Just recently I landed a new job and I am currently working with her to get my accounts brought forward. Regine NEVER made me feel bad though strongly encouraged me to continue trying to find help in resolving this matter. I now have a new life that includes a new job so that I can start to rebuild my history with Verity. If there is any type of customer service award available, I believe that it should go to Regine for her superb customer service, loyalty and for the grace that she showed during my darkest times. Thank you Regine!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

money and happiness

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “Money doesn’t buy happiness”, and it was probably at a time in your life when you were financially strapped. While it’s good advice, it’s not exactly what you want to hear when you’re down on your luck. But, when heard at the right time and in the right frame of mind, the message makes a lot of sense. For example, a well written piece by Jonathan Clements in the Wall Street Journal helped put things into perspective for me: Money and Happiness: Here’s Why You Won’t Laugh All the Way to the Bank.

I’ve never really had an internal drive to be a millionaire or live like Donald Trump, but I have always wanted to live comfortably with enough cash to use for fun things like vacations and cute shoes. I feel like I’ve accomplished this goal, but at times I also feel it’s not enough and that maybe I should be making more money, driving a nicer car and living in a bigger apartment overlooking the water.

According to Clements, “people with higher incomes tend to spend more time working, commuting and engaging in obligatory nonwork activities, such as maintaining their homes.” What I take away from this statement is that in order to make more money, you have to sacrifice more of your free time to work. Then, when you do make more money, it’s likely you’ll accumulate more possessions and material goods which will mean you have to spend more time maintaining them. In the end, any free time you have goes toward maintaining the possessions you’ve worked so hard to acquire. This does not sound like fun to me and is a good reminder of why it’s ok for me to feel comfortable with my income.

Clements lists four things he believes lead to greater happiness (in bold):

Short commutes. I would rather pay more to live in-city and be closer to my job than spend less on rent and have a longer commute. Plus, the shorter commute helps keeps my gas bill down and my emotions (road rage) under control.

Having more time; working less. I work a 37.5 hour work week. I notice that most of my neighbors have already left for work by the time I get to my car in the mornings, and I’m usually the first one back to the carport in the evenings. I love this.

Spending your money thoughtfully. I am not am impulse shopper. Because I have less money to spend, I really do have to think about how I’m spending it. I can’t afford to be frivolous, so when I do buy something extravagant, I usually appreciate for a long time afterward.

Use your leisure time wisely. This is a hard one for me. When I do have time to do whatever I choose, I struggle between being productive and truly relaxing. I tend to forget that relaxation can help me be more productive in the long run. I think a lot of people also equate leisure time with vacations, expensive vacations. I've heard myself complaining to people that I haven't had a "real" vacation in a long time. The reality is that I can make any amount of free time a vacation if I do it the right way. You can't measure the quality of your leisure time by how much money you spent, only by how much real pleasure you got out of it.

It seems as if the keys to happiness have a lot more to do with what you do with your money than how much you earn. And this is good news because it’s never too late to become financially responsible. That’s what I call a happy ending.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Two for Two

I got another email last week that made my day. (This is two weeks in a row that such things have come across my desk - I love that!)

One of our Board of Directors, Karen Hunt, sent a nice note to our President regarding the service she received from one of our Member Service employees. Now, I have to tell you, Karen is not an easy one to please. First, she has very high standards - as any board member should. Secondly, she works in the toughest of tough industries in regard to customer service - the cruise ship industry. So, to get a compliment from Karen is nothing someone should take lightly.

To really celebrate Erin's outstanding member service, I want to share Karen's comments with the rest of the world...

Good afternoon,
I just wanted to let both of you know just how helpful Erin in the call center was today. I called to ask if our credit cards provided extended warranties on purchases. While she did not know the specifics on our cards she directed me to and walked me through VISA.COM which had all of the information that I needed.

She was a true professional and a great representative for Verity.

Thanks,
Karen Hunt
Director


These are the types of correspondence that make me love my job. Great work, Erin. Thank you, Karen, for taking the time to pass along your thoughts. It was a great way to end the week.

Friday, August 25, 2006

My Traffic

My regular daily commute takes me from the north end to Northgate every morning and every afternoon. I know the route. I know the alternate routes. I know that I can make it in 15 minutes on a superb day - and maybe 30 minutes when other motorists have decided to play bumper cars before me. I know how to tell when it's a good day and when the commute is going to try my patience. I know the twists, the turns, the quiet pavement areas and the grooves in each lane. I know which lane to be in at each point in the commute to avoid common slowdowns. I know my commute.

This week I've had the pleasure of commuting down South to Beacon Hill one day and Auburn the next. I know my commute - but I certainly don't know other people's commute. And I don't think I care for it, either. The Express Lanes - by pure virtue of their name - should indicate that it is a magical form of shortcut to help you sneak by all the other chumps stuck in traffic while you sling-shot ahead of them. Not so! The Express Lanes let you think you are rocking the traffic party, that is until you reach the point you actually want to join your I-5 brethren. At that point, the full cast of the Secret Society of Express Laners have to all merge into a single lane in order to rejoin the I-5 speedway. Apparently my fellow commuters that are far more experienced in this area have decided that this merger is done best while at a complete stop.

I may have just traveled the last 5 miles in 5 or 6 minutes - but the next 1/4 mile is going to take me 10-15 minutes. And I bet many a Sociology thesis have been written on the practice of those folks that ride the open lanes only to cut in a the last moment. Those folks likely think that they are the far superior commuter by virtue of their vast driving and time-saving abilities. The rest of us, on the other hand, have just waited 10 minutes in line and be damned if you think we'll let you merge in and further encourage the degradation of society.

And it's not just the Express Lanes - I just don't like other people's traffic. I don't really know how long it will take. I don't know the best lanes to be in along any particular point en route. And while I may apply a reasonable amount of patience to my traffic, I really have very little to give towards the traffic of others. Luckily it's not an everyday occurrence - because then it really would become my traffic.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

eBay can be your crowning achievement

Ebay is fantastic! Finding, watching, bidding and winning an online auction can be exhilerating. And scoring a great deal on a product is what brings most people to ebay. Something can be said for experience, though, and without it ebay can feel pretty intimidating and clumsy. So here are a few basic tips to maximize your ebay enjoyment:

~ Don't bid. At least not yet. Any bidding done before the waning seconds of an auction just drives up the price. If you spot an item you are interested in, just click "Watch this item" and you can easily consolidate your favorite auctions in your My eBay summary. About the only instance I can imagine placing an early bid on an item is when you find an item you really are hoping to win, and it has a low starting bid and a Buy It Now price, with no reserve. Placing the minimum bid, then, removes the Buy It Now option for other ebayers and ensures you have a fair auction until the end.

~ Bid smart. Take a moment to really evaluate how much you are willing to pay for the item - and stick to it! That will save you from getting caught up in the moment, bidding too high just to "win" the auction and then experiencing buyer's remorse. Also, don't forget to take shipping and insurance charges into consideration when you calculate your bid. For example, if you don't want to spend more than $100 for the new widget and the seller is charging $12 for shipping, make sure you stick to $88 as your bid. And since you are placing your bid in the last seconds of the auction, go ahead and place that maximum bid that you are comfortable with. Ebay is smart, if it only takes $74 to win the widget, you will win the item for $74 even though you put in your $88 bid.

~ Questioning the authenticity of the item or trustworthiness of the seller? Check their feedback and current auctions. A seller with a decent number of feedback (100+) and a high percentage of positive feedback (98%+) has demonstrated the ability to be a good ebayer. By reviewing a sellers feedback, you can also see what other items they have sold in the past few months. Also, check the sellers current offerings up for auction. If they are selling fakes, then most of their other auctions are likely fakes and may be easier to spot.

~ Pay quickly. It can only help expedite your shipping. Some sellers are lightening quick shippers, but most items seem to take a good 7-10 days to arrive - and it's that anticipation of your item to arrive in the mail that can try anyone's patience.

~ Feedback. Go ahead and leave feedback first. Most sellers wait until the buyers leave them feedback before returning the favor.

So go out there, have fun, ebay safely and enjoy the thrill of winning an auction for a great price.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Who Cares About Credit Unions?

I recently returned from a conference where I learned that 2 out 3 consumers believe credit unions should be taxed. Another statistic: more than 50% of credit union members do not know the difference between a bank and a credit union.

I believe in credit unions and I wish more folks understood our unique structure because I believe that with that understanding would come increased loyalty.

Credit unions are not-for-profit. We are not a charity and we are not a for-profit organization, like a bank. We are a cooperative. The difference is when we make money we either give it back to our members in terms of favorable rates or we set some aside for a rainy day or we build another branch or hire another quality employee. We don't have stockholders. Our members vote for eligible board of directors that happen to also be members. Every member can vote. Our board of directors are not paid.

Because we are not-for-profit only a select group of people can join our credit union, or any credit union. For Verity Credit Union, the common bond of all members is that they live or work in the state of Washington. We do pay taxes: state sales tax, federal and state unemployment tax, state labor & industry tax, federal income tax on non-credit union related activities, county property taxes, social security and Medicare taxes, and other employment related taxes. We do not pay a business tax and a federal income tax. A lot of other for-profits may not pay these taxes either, via sheltering or creative classification. At this conference I also learned that the total credit union exemption, about 1.6 billion, translate into about 10.6 billion in consumer benefits (loans, savings, etc.).

Credit unions have about a 5.8% market share in the financial services industry. Ten years ago, our market share was just over 4%. What we provide to the consumer is simple: a choice. Our not-for-profit model is unique and provide a different approach to business. I think these differences translate into a service model that is member-driven, member-focused and member-oriented.

What do you think?

Five ways visiting Verity can make you smarter (and even impress your girlfriend’s dad)?

Ok this might sound like a Cosmo article but I promise that you won’t have to take any quiz at the end. Last night I was talking to my girlfriends Dad, who recently retired. He started talking about this new type of account that he was looking into called a HSA. He asked me if I have heard about it.

Well at Verity we just happen to be one of a few financial institutions that offer this account. Furthermore we offer it with no monthly fees which make us one of the best deals in town.

In addition, I truly believe that in the next five years you are going to see this account skyrocket in popularity (it was signed into law in 2003) as it will offer opportunities for people to be more flexible (and earn more) on money set aside for medical expenses as well as saving them money on their medical premiums. It will also save organizations money on medical premiums they have to pay. Overall it truly is a win-win situation for everyone involved. This got me thinking about educational opportunities that Verity provides that can make anyone feel like they are financially savvy.

1. Ask one of our Relationship Managers or Associates about HSAs. Haven’t I already demonstrated why this is important?

2. Meet with one of our Financial Advisors. It is completely free and they can help you plan for your long term financial needs (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, they got access to it all). You all ready have a financial advisor, well it never hurts to get a second opinion. Did I mention that it is free advice?

3. Talk to our Mortgage Department. With all the different mortgage options out there why not meet with an experienced representative to help you choose the one that is right for you.

4. Talk to anyone at Verity about what it means to be a member of a credit union. Do you know all the benefits that come along with being a credit union member?

5. Explore our website. We provide articles, product information, and even financial calculators that can make you seem like you have all the answers.

Friday, August 18, 2006

My Wedding

I recently married again after quite a few years of being the single father blessed with the opportunity of raising his two sons. That fact in itself is with worth several blogs but alas, I shall have to save these for another day.

My new spouse hails from the land of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. If any of you are avid movie watchers, you might recognize these names from the action adventure flick "Braveheart". In an effort to honor my bride and pay homage to her heritage I actually wore a kilt. Wow, you might be thinking, "that was a dumb thing to do if you are not Scottish" or "that was a kind and brave thing to do". If you ask me, I would have to say, none of the above. Granted, I was nervous but to show respect for another's heritage is neither dumb nor brave, but that is how I am today. If truth be known, had I met my bride even as little as a decade ago, I might not have had the nerve to pull it off.

In my current position as Business Services Manager, I cannot take a hide and seek approach. I am here to grow the department and help our current and future members. Armed with a great group of co-workers, we are about to embark on an ambitious task of calling on the businesses within our footprint. In other words, we are going to start knocking on the doors of the local businesses to introduce ourselves and show them what we have to offer. This type of business development used to have my knees quivering and my voice wavering. After a while, meeting people I did not know became much easier and today, I find it a rewarding experience. The object of these visits is not to "sell" the business anything but to let them know that Business Services is available to them at Verity. It is a hard thing for any business to change their relationship with their current financial provider and we understand that. We are just letting these hard working people know that we are here to help if they should ever want or need a change. The exciting part comes when they do make the change and we have the opportunity to view the workings of the business that these people have poured their life's blood into. That is truly an amazing thing to experience.

Ride it Like You Stole It

I just returned from South Dakota. I was there to help my husband's family celebrate the 100th birthday of Frank Stukel Sr. We had a spare afternoon so I was able to visit Sturgis during the 66th Annual Motorcycle Rally.

Every year, over half a million bikers descend upon Sturgis (population 6,400). It is truly something to behold. A few of the highlights:

1. The tee-shirts. Almost without exception, each person had some type of tee-shirt that announced their love of motorcycles - particularly Harley Davidsons. My favorite is noted in the title of this post.

2. The tattoos. Interestingly, I was reading Denise Wymore's book "Tattoos: The Ultimate Proof of A Successful Brand" I can attest to her claim that Harley Davidson is one of the most requested tattoos. There were hundreds of them! Other brand tattoos I saw - M&M, Oakley, Apple, and Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.

3. The manners. Everyone was so nice. I have to admit, I have seen many photos of the rally and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I am happy to report that I saw far more digital cameras and bottled water than I saw brass knuckles or Jack Daniels. (I didn't see any brass knuckles or Jack Daniels to be honest).

4. The camaraderie. I was struck by how much the crowd embraced their affiliation. It was like being there meant you were part of a big club. I am sure the people I chatted with on the streets were as different as different can be, but for one week, they all came together and celebrated their sameness. It was quite an experience.

5. The credit union. So... on the drive from Rapid City, we saw several huge billboards one after another. You can imagine the line up... Harley Davidson.... Budweiser.... Play Boy..... Jim Bean... and then..... Northern Hills Federal Credit Union! There they were advertising their drive through ATM (brilliant, if you ask me). Sure enough, their branch was in the thick of the motorcycles. Talk about people helping people They had taped to their door a sign that read, "Welcome Bikers. Here is what you need to know about Sturgis..." and then it listed where all of the Honey Buckets could be found; along with the pay phones, the churches and the hospital.

In closing, I must say, Sturgis, South Dakota during the Motorcycle Rally should be on anyone's life list. It is an incredible experience.

When the answer is NO

I came across an interesting quote in Thursday's Wall Street Journal. It read, "It's not easy to tell people, 'no'. It's like telling them their dog isn't cute." The article was about an auto show that is reducing the amount of entries. The topic doesn't apply to Verity, but the sentiment does. Telling people no is something that front line customer service representatives struggle with everyday. We like to call it fancy things like providing solutions, but sometimes we are telling people no.
What do you say when there is not a viable solution for a member? I like to think that Verity has a wide array of products and services that can meet a customer's needs, but there always are exceptions. So, in my mind if you have to say no make sure you exercising excellent listening skills. Listening skills include making sure you understand the problem as stated, paraphrasing throughout the call and providing empathy. In real estate, location is the key. When telling people no delivery is key.
As a manager, I always struggle to train someone on their delivery methods. To understand the quality of service you are providing you have to look at it from the other person's perspective. Perception is reality.

I'm not sure what the best way is to train employees to properly deliver a negative message is. If you have any ideas or stories about when you told bad news and left happy anyways, let me know.

Not quite a Happy Friday

It started out to be a great day.

I had a tall, vanilla latte' waiting for me this morning. My 5-month old son was in good spirits when I left for work. The commute to work was speedy and accident-free. It is a sunny, summer day in Seattle. I got settled at my desk, looking forward to putting in a productive day at work.

Then I checked my email.

I got reports that members couldn't see their balances in Home Banking. A staff member logging into their personal account couldn't make transfers. Another member couldn't access their credit card...

Home Banking is down. My work begins.


8:39 a.m.
I receive an email alert from our system vendor telling me we have lost real-time connectivity. This means when our members log-in, they won't see up-to-date balances. They won't be able to transfer funds between their accounts. They won’t be able to view their credit card. They will be able to pay bills online, but with limited functionality.

I send an alert out to staff letting know what's going because we are sure to get a flood of calls to our Member Service Center. I then create an update on the website and send out an email to our eWallet account members.

I spend the next hour or so fielding staff and member questions and monitor my emails, hoping for good news and a quick fix for our Home Banking woes.


10:43 a.m.
Another Update from our system vendor. They are still looking for the cause of the disconnection. Apparently, we are not the only ones experiencing this. All we can do is wait for them to get our connection back up as soon as possible. This could be a long weekend.

1:27 p.m.
Good news, bad news. The good news is that our system provider has found the cause and that they are testing every one of their clients' connections. The bad news is that until that is done, Home Banking is still not fully functional. I send another alert to staff and keep the notice on the website so members know what's going on.


2:39 p.m.
I finally get the official word from our system vendor that connectivity is back online. This means Home Banking is back! Time to alert staff and remove the message from the website.

2:54 p.m.
Write about my day on Verity's Blog.


Dealing with Home Banking downtimes and communicating the fact to staff and members is part of my job. It's not fun being the bearer of bad news, but I like to think that I am looking out for our members and staff when I send out those emails and website messages. Sometimes I will call the vendor if I haven't gotten an update in a while.

Most of the time, Home Banking issues are short-lived. But there are times, like today, when Home Banking downtimes go from minutes to hours. Sometimes I am frustrated because some technical issues must be placed in the hands of our system providers/vendors to get us back online and all I can do is wait. Meanwhile, I know more than half of our members use Home Banking and many of them are trying to get their bills paid or just wanting to see if a check cleared.

I take small comfort from the fact that we aren't the only financial intuition that has to deal with online banking outages. It happens to the "big guys," too.Take WAMU for example. Their online banking was down for FIVE days recently. It makes me wonder-- is there really such a thing as 24-7 online banking access when we are forced to rely on a intricate network of computers, hardware, software, telephone lines and electricity? And, how does human error play into this? I'd be interested in hearing others' thoughts about this.

Perhaps that is a topic to blog about some other time. Home Banking is back online and I'm now looking forward to my weekend.

Did you know?

I always hear how handy it would be to have a Lawyer, Mechanic, Plumber, Electrician, General Contractor, CPA or Doctor in the family. The assumption being that you would have quick and infinite access to their specialty of trade. Rarely on that list is a Relationship Manager! What about the depth of invaluable tidbits of consumer financial information I have to share with the world?!? So here we go - hopefully the first of many (or at least a few) . They may not all be gems, but at least they would be useful should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

~Don't keep entering in a wrong PIN when at an ATM. Particularly if it's one of those that has just sucked in your card. A good rule of thumb is that you only have 3 tries at getting the PIN right. So if you aren't quite positive you are about to get it right on the third try, I'd suggest hitting "cancel" and take a breather (like 24 hours). If you strike out at a machine that sucked up your card, you can bet your skittles the machine is going to keep your card. And then you are forced with another evil fact: if you had your card retained by an ATM that is not owned by your own financial institution, you won't be able to get your card back. Then you are stuck having to order a new card and surviving a week or two without a debit card. Yuck!

~How did you use your debit card? Some of us do a fantastic job of maintaining a running balance in our checkbook. Some of us do a fair job of keeping up to date by reviewing our account register online. Some of us just wing it. But pretty much everyone hates to overdraw our checking account and run up fees. One common mistake people make is rooted in confusion over the use of their debit card. The simple rule is that purchases made using your PIN comes out of your account immediately and purchases made using your signature (or any time you didn't enter your PIN) can take a good 1 to 3 days to post to your account. That difference between immediate and 1-3 days can become pivotal when you look at your checking balance at any given time to determine whether funds are available for your next purchase.

~Buying a car! Man, this is a big one. There are so many aspects to buying and financing a car where your local Verity loan officer/processor can be helpful. First, don't buy GAP coverage for $500 at the dealership - it's half the price for the same coverage at Verity. Also, if you owe more on your trade in than the dealer is going to give you credit for, there is no magical fix. The dealer can make the deal happen for you, but they are just rolling the problem over into your new vehicle - you'll continue to owe more than it's worth. Payments over time are your only solution to this one!

I'm sure there are more consumer financial tidbits to share, but I'll have to save something for another day. If anything, though, always feel free to ask your local Verity expert. It feels good to be knowledgeable about something - even if I can't perform an emergency tracheotomy.

EFy Award Winner - August

Have you ever walked into a financial institution and been greated by a long line. What makes it worse is it seems like no one cares. Well I'm not saying that there is never any lines at our branches but at Verity I can say that we honestly care. We strive to give a high level of service to everyone. I know this sounds sappy but it is true. If you ever have meet with Ken, our Investment Services Program Manager, you know that he goes out of his way to make himself available to our members. No matter how hetic his day is you can always count on him greeting you with a smile and that he will provide you with exceptional service. This is why he is this month's winner of the EFy Award. Read the nomination below (writen by our VP of Marketing) to learn more about why he was choosen as this month's winner.

Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk, in my weekly meeting with Paul and Ken came briskly into my office. He looked at both of us and said, "is there any way either of you could go down to the branch and help members? The line is long and the members and staff are getting frustrated." He had already worked his way around HQ to see if he could find any other employees who could go downstairs and help out.

I hate to admit it, but I sometimes get complacent about member service. I see the long lines and think "we’re short staffed, people are on breaks, what can you do?" Well, Ken asked himself the same question and then said, ‘I can go try to find someone to help out.’ And he did. He found Paul and Paul went down and started tellering.

Ken has been here almost two years and I have never seen him be complacent about anything in terms of serving our members. He worked incredibly long hours during IRA season when we were down one rep and NEVER complained (in fact, he was quite pleasant through the whole ordeal). He always has his best foot forward when dealing with staff and members. His presentation (the way he dresses, conducts business, and interacts with others) raises the bar of professionalism here at the credit union on a daily basis.

I cannot stress strongly enough how much I think Ken deserves this award right now. The work that he does with our members often goes unnoticed because Investment Services is it’s own department. But Ken is so hard working and deserving of recognition that I hope that the team understand the extra hours, travel and work he has had to do since Blake’s departure and give him some props.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Can I Get An Amen!

The below email was sent to us via our board member, Beth Naczkowski. Emails like this make my day! I just had to share it with others.

Read on:

Beth -

Just wanted to shoot you a thank you for mentioning Verity Credit Union. I’m soon to be a member with 2 car loans – not only are the rates excellent, but the service is outstanding.

The loan officer I’m working with is Terri J. She was quick to respond to my application, courteous enough to ask if the timing was appropriate and exceptionally helpful on the loan process – making sure I understood each step. In addition to all of this, she listened intently enough to recommend the additional services (checking, CD, etc) that fit my lifestyle.

My two interactions with Verity employees have been a refreshing change from the big bank that I’m currently banking with. Well, that is, that I WAS banking with until this week. I’ll be a signature member by the end of the month. The credit union I work with now used to be like this, and every interaction I’ve had with them over the last few years reminds me that they’re no longer the credit union with a small community feel. This is what I see in Verity.

Not to mention the loan rates blew everyone else out of the water!

-Christine Jenkins

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Authorizations

In the call center we often get calls from members who are confused by the difference between their current and available balances. Frequently, the difference is due to gas stations placing a hold on anywhere from $50 to $100. Gas stations aren’t the only ones to place holds, rental car companies also take authorizations to secure payment. While holds can be frustrating for members, a member service representative found this information on Visa’s website which explains their legitimacy:

Why do gas stations, restaurants, and hotels put holds on Visa check cards?

"To meet consumer demand for payment conveniences such as express/video check-out at hotels, pay-at-the-pump fueling and one-swipe payment at restaurants, Visa has established processes to protect Visa check card issuers, merchants, and cardholder. Similar to how check deposits can’t be immediately withdrawn, account deductions can’t immediately be cleared when the final amount isn't known—this typically applies to hotel, restaurant, and pay-at-the-pump gas station purchases. For these types of purchases, check card issuers may earmark cardholder funds to cover the estimated cost of the transaction. This process, known as a hold, safeguards both cardholders and merchants, ensuring cardholders don’t spend more money than they have and merchants are paid for the transaction. While most transactions have a less than a 24-hour hold, Visa protects cardholders by ensuring that all holds must be removed within 72 hours."

Balanced

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and pay better attention to the first time you learned to balance your checkbook? It seems easy enough, but unfortunately too often we forget to write things down and the snowball effect happens. A member service representative found this site and wanted to share it:

http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/debt/20040723a1.asp.

Below are tips to avoid overdrawing your checking account from bankrate.com:
  • Enter every transaction into your checkbook register. Make sure to include everything: dates, checks, debit card purchases, deposits, automatic or preauthorized withdrawals or deposits and ATM withdrawals. Just as important, keep a running total of the balance of available funds.

  • Consider keeping a cushion of $100 or, in your case, as much as $900, that is not recorded in your checking account register as a buffer. When your checking account gets low, you will still have a safety margin.

  • Sign up for overdraft protection either from a savings account (where you could put the $900) or in the form of a line of credit. If you believe you will not abuse it, go ahead and sign up for this added protection.

  • Bottom line: If you do not have the money in your account, do not write the check, do not use your debit card and do not withdraw money that does not exist from your account.

marketing musings: shwag

Look on your desk right now. How much shwag do you have hanging around? (Shwag is a slang term for free promotional items.) Right now, as I glance around my desk I count 5 items that have been sent to me by vendors that serve no useful purpose other than to take up space. I have a stuffed animal, a stress ball, a slinky, a cow keychain and a rubber ducky. Out of the hundred or so items I’ve received over the course of the year, these items were lucky enough to make the cut. They have the rare privilege of getting to sit on my desk.

While I may be a bit indifferent to these freebies, I know this is not the case for everyone. For example, this weekend I passed by several street marketers at my local farmer’s market. They all seemed to work for beverage companies (fruit juice, energy drink, flavored water), and they were all handing out shwag. I was amazed at how many people were lined up to get their free keychains and band aids and fly swatters. Sometimes I forget how much people love free stuff.

As a marketer and orderer of shwag, I often find myself trying to find the most useful and reasonably priced items to give away. In the past I’ve ordered jar openers (very helpful in the kitchen), magnetic clips (to keep those important documents on the fridge because where else are you gonna put them?), and water bottles (hydration is important), to name a few. I struggle with deciding what to order because of my own feelings toward shwag. I don’t want to give out a bunch of junk that’s just going to collect dust, but I also don’t want to be completely boring.

Wandering through many festivals and events this summer has helped me to realize that people don’t really care how useful something is as long as it’s free. As long as people are willing to wait in a line 25 people deep to get a free stress ball toy, then I have no need to worry. The real question is, does this free stuff help spread the Verity name? Do people notice or pay attention to the logos scattered about their desk or in their home? What connection do they make from the shwag to the company and is it one of value?

There I go again, overanalyzing. If you have any comments on this particular quandary of mine, I’d love to here them. Oh, and if you've ever received a promotional item that knocked your socks off, let me know!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What Exactly Are Banks Doing?

I have been watching with interest this new advertising message that a few of the bigger banks are using (Washington Mutual and Capital One spring to mind). Washington Mutual has billboards up all over the Seattle area with the mug of a sourly looking older gentleman with captions like “free checking? I was born rich, not stupid” or “free checks for life? Over my butler’s dead body”. I am sure I am not getting them exactly right, but it is the correct sentiment.

Capital One has these great tv commercials that have tiny little Lilliputian people that are supposed to represent small business owners. The big bankers actually catch them on fire with their magnifying glass.

I assume that Washington Mutual is trying to say that all other banks are owned and run by a bunch of thoughtless rich guys. Probably, Capital One is trying to say that other banks are careless and clueless when it comes to small business owners.

I find it really interesting that these two major players are trying to separate themselves from their categories. They are basically saying, ‘we know banks stink, but we are different’.

Then you look at credit unions. In Washington State, there is a co-op of credit unions (a co-op of co-ops, if you will) that have pooled our resources with the main mission of spreading the word about credit unions. We feel that the credit union category is a good one and if more people knew about them, we would all be better off.

In essence, we are trying to do exactly the opposite of what banks are doing right now. Banks are trying to distance themselves from their reputation, while we are trying to embrace ours.

Credit unions currently have about 6% market share in the financial industry. That seems so odd to me. It seems like people complain about their banks (they must or WAMU and Capital One would not spend as much money as they have in recognizing that fact). Why don’t more people join a credit union? I don’t know.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Members Make Me Smile

Last week, I was having a pretty bad week at work. I know, even companies that aspire to be one of the top ten places to work have their off weeks.

But I had to call the winner of our recent spring cleaning promotion - you know - the one who got to pick between a housecleaning service, carpet cleaning service or a gutter cleaning service? So I spoke with the winner, Barbara Stehr. She told me that she had gotten a HELOC because she wanted to do a few upgrades to her home and wanted to help her children buy their first house.

Talking to her helped my outlook immensely. Even when office politics get a little rough, I like the fact that I can go home at the end of the day and say, 'my company helped someone live a better life.' There is a lot to be said about that.

Then I had to call Holly at Hollys Housekeeping and let her know that Barbara chose the carpet cleaning and not the housecleaning. Again, Holly is a great example of someone we have helped along the way. Holly is an admirable business owner who is doing a great job.

When you can look at your job with that kind of perspective, it makes the day to day annoyances seem much less important. I like that we do good things.