Monday, April 30, 2007

Toastmaster or Milktoast

Toastmasters. Many times that word alone strikes fear into the hearts of men and women alike.

Some believe Toastmasters is a mythical group of people bent on making up elaborate toasts for weddings, funerals, Bar Mitzvah’s, Bat Mitzvah’s and graduations. Some have heard that Toastmasters a place where people go to stand on a soapbox and speak about something, no one knows what, just something. Some think it’s a type of appliance, and sadly, some have never heard of Toastmasters at all. They just know that it’s scary!

Allow me to introduce you to Toastmasters: It’s a forum for professional, lay and business people in general to hone their public speaking skills….uhoooooo, that IS scary. Did you say: Public SPEAKING skills? Yes, I did.

Because I am often in the public arena promoting Verity Credit Union at a variety of community events and chamber functions, I wanted to improve my speaking ability when addressing the public. Toastmasters provide the ideal place to learn, grow and perfect one’s speaking capability. It’s fun, yes, I DID say FUN, informative, and for me, one of the highlights of my work week.

Each subject you choose to speak on is determined by you, at your own discretion in combination with particular speech objectives listed in your manual. In other words, for each of the ten speeches you give to earn your Competent Communicator Certificate, you have objectives to meet ranging from vocal tone and gestures to organizing your speech. Each lesson is designed to help the speaker become more comfortable with speaking in front of a group, and speaking well. All speeches are evaluated by a seasoned club member and positively reinforced with both compliments and pointers on how to improve.

I belong to a highly decorated club in Federal Way led by a very dynamic Life Coach, DeBorah, and numerous other professionals of varying backgrounds, from accountants to engineers and sales executives. This delightful group of business people is so enthusiastic, helpful and caring that I know my speaking has improved after only three months of participation. It’s due in great part to their support and constructive critiquing, not to mention the friendships I’ve established and the subjects I’ve learned about. Indeed, each speech that I’ve prepared has been more fun than the last, and I’ve earned the distinction of Best Speaker on more than one occasion. Who knew? And who knows what might be within you? I highly recommend the Toastmaster experience and encourage anyone and everyone to give it a try. We were all as nervous as you at the beginning. You’ll get over it and embrace it, and go from Milktoast to Toastmaster!

Friday, April 27, 2007

We Know Someone On Oprah!

A friend Verity’s, a photographer by the name of Bev Sparks, was on Oprah this week.

Bev has been taking our corporate “head shots” for the past few years. I don’t exactly remember how we were introduced to Bev, but I do know that even though she does not specialize in corporate photography, we always call on her because we like her so much.

Which makes it all the more exciting that she was on Oprah. On April 25, Oprah did a “Dog Lovers” segment. Bev’s photos were featured behind Oprah the whole show and Bev was introduced at the end. Bev looked FABULOUS.

IMHO, Oprah should have had more of Bev and less of Tori Spelling and whats-his-name. If you ever have a chance to check out the segment, you should. She had the world’s tallest dog and the world’s smallest dog. They appeared to hit off – surprisingly.

Also, if you are a dog lover and want a picture of your pooch, definitely call Bev. She’s good people (and very talented).

Friday, April 20, 2007

To Call or Not to Call—members, will you answer?

Recently, Ron Shevlin cited Joe’s post, The Dilemma of the Service Call. In his post, Mr. Shevlin commented that Verity’s approach (as described in Joe’s post) is wrong and “representative of what goes on in many banks and credit unions.” You can read the entire post here; the following is an excerpt of his commentary that supports his argument:

So what’s wrong with Verity’s approach?

1) It doesn’t know “the products advantageous for them.” Few consumers have all, let alone a majority of their financial products with one provider. So, in trying to determine what products to offer, a financial provider is at a serious disadvantage — it doesn’t have a complete picture of what any one customer owns and doesn’t own. YOU might think a credit card is “advantageous” for someone, but what you don’t know is that she already has five cards — and resents you calling to sell her something she doesn’t “need.”

2) The timing is all wrong. Yes, I’ve seen the BAI study that says 95% (or whatever) of all additional products are cross-sold in the first six months after a new account is opened. But nobody ever asks why that’s the case. I’ll tell you — because that’s the window in which the customer is still in the honeymoon period, and their bank (or credit union) hasn’t done enough to piss them off yet. But the reality of the matter is that it’s incredibly unlikely that someone’s financial situation has changed that much one month after opening a particular account (which is when Verity is making its second call). If you were to call me a month after I opened an account and tried to pitch another, I’d ask you why your firm was so incompetent as to NOT tell me about this a month ago.

We’d like to open this discussion up to our members and get your thoughts.

Do you like a follow-up call to make sure that you got your debit card, to answer any questions you might have, or just to make contact after the 1st 60 days after you first meet us?

Or, do you not like a follow-up call? Would you rather we hang up (pun intended) the idea of follow-up calls altogether? What do you expect from your relationship with your credit union?

Tell us—we really want to know.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Fraudulent NCUA email alert

It's been brought to my attention that there is an email going around that looks like this:

From: NCUA
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Sent: Wednesday, April 11, 2007 8:44 PM
Subject: Official information for all Federal Credit Union

Dear Sir/Madam,

National Credit Union Administration always look forward for the high security of our clients. Some customers have been receiving an email claiming to be from NCUA advising them to follow a link to what appear to be a NCUA web site, where they are prompted to enter their personal Online Banking details. NCUA is in no way involved with this email and the web site does not belong to us.

Actually, we are performing security improvements of our banking community and enforce customers to register their sensitive information for an additionally created free security service to prevent any fraudulent activity against their assets and savings. We, hereby ask you to respond within few hours of current notification and Confirm Your Credit or Debit Card via our SSL protected website to apply for this service absolutely for free, otherwise your account(s) may not process posted transactions correctly and on time.

Please visit us to Confirm Your Credit or Debit Card.

Hopefully, most people know this is an obvious scam. NCUA would never contact you about accounts you have at your credit union as they have no access to your accounts. In fact, I have never received any kind of email from NCUA as a consumer, only as a credit union employee. As far as I know, unless you've gone to NCUA's website and have proactively signed up with them to receive emails, you shouldn't be getting emails from them.

That being said, I understand how confusing it is when you're getting multiple emails from multiple financial institutions. I'll confess that I was once almost duped by a phishing attempt that appeared to be from Bank of America. I have a credit card with them and I go online about once a month to check my statement since I've opted out of getting paper ones (a brilliant idea, by the way). Almost monthly I'll forget my log-in information and will have to go through the whole process of resetting my password. So when I received an email from BoA telling me there was suspicious activity on my online account and that if I didn't take appropriate action they were going to lock me out of my account for good, I thought it was because I'd recently typed in about 10 incorrect passwords. I quickly remembered that I'd successfully reset my password and that there's no way they'd close my account without trying to contact me via phone at least.

Here's the rule of thumb I follow when it comes to email: never respond to email from a financial institution or strangers; never click links in emails from financial instiutions or strangers; when in doubt, pick up the phone (but don't talk to strangers).

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Dilemma of the Service Call

One of my job responsibilities as a ‘Relationship Associate’ at Verity is to make service calls to members who have recently opened an account at our Alderwood branch. The first call usually happens about 2 weeks after the account is opened. I ask the member if they have received their checks or debit card and answer any questions they may have about their new accounts. At this time I also take the opportunity, after having reviewed their accounts, to offer the member other products or services that may fit their needs. This call is always well received. The member realizes that we are following up on the new account and they’re appreciative that we want to make sure they’ve received their checks or debit card.
A second call is placed about a month later, without the guise of a check up, to offer others products. Again, having reviewed their accounts, I determine the products that are advantageous for each member and explain how they can profit from them. While these calls are solicitations, and beneficial for the credit union, we have the member’s best interest at heart. Many members don’t have their accounts structured to optimize their return; some because they don’t know, some just don’t care. Either way we want to educate our membership and contribute to a positive banking experience. However, in this day and age people, myself included, are conditioned to be suspicious of sales calls. These second calls aren’t as well received, and sometimes people are stand-offish, especially those who don’t understand our cooperative nature. Are these calls then giving members reason to see us as though we’re only out for profit? Are members equating us to banks? Are they more of an annoyance than a service? Such is the dilemma of the service call.
Nevertheless, I propose that while these calls might not be appreciated by all, we must continue in our endeavor to educate and provide superior service. Those that value our efforts will remain loyal and committed members and those that don’t yet regard these services as highly as others, will recognize their value in time.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Plumbers Have the Worst Pipes

I spend eight hours of my day communicating, educating and pontificating on credit union products, the wise use of credit, the importance of savings, the virtues of investing, and innovative tools to manage one’s financial fitness.

You’d think, that if you looked into my personal life, you’d find a perfectly balance checkbook, a smooth running family budget, pristinely organized files of important documents and fine tuned retirement plan.

You’d be wrong.

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my personal financial house is pretty darn messy. I need more life insurance. I need to sit down with our investment advisor. I bounced a few checks this year and I neglected to pay a few parking tickets (until someone named Bruce called).

My 2007 New Years Resolution was to be more organized, more proactive in my finances.

That is what I have been working on this morning. It has probably been over a year since I checked in on our retirement savings (ack!). So I went to Home Banking to see how those accounts were doing.

There is a little known secret about our Home Banking system…. Did you know that you can aggregate all of your retirement accounts in one column so you can see all of them at a glance? It even adds them up for you so you can see the total of your savings at once.

It under our Bill Payer system (and we wonder why people don’t find it!). Go to Bill Payer, then MoneyHQ (again – another sooo intuitive name). It takes about 20 minutes to set all of your accounts up. You need to know the url, user name and password of the companies where you have fund. Once you put it all in, its there every time you want to look at it.

There was something strangely comforting to see all five of my investment accounts, right there in a row, where I left them last year, with little indicators such as “updated 42 minutes ago” and “updated 17 minutes ago”. I wanted to pat my computer on its smart little head and say, “thanks for keeping that safe while I was out of touch.” Yes, I felt a little better about life after seeing those accounts so neatly laid out for me, clearly updating for the past 12 months. (It didn’t hurt at all that the market was kind to me either!)

So if you are like me and your 2007 new years resolution is to be more organized, I recommend two things to you: 1. Check out our retirement savings aggregator on Home Banking. 2. Watch for a class we will be hosting on keeping your personal papers organized. It’s May 22 and more information will be on the front page of the website soon.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Life as a Tweenie

For those of us with kids, the descriptor Tweenie is very familiar; it’s someone who is no longer a little kid, but not quite a big kid either. They are the kids who can see and understand what the big kids can do, and are trying like heck to do those things as well.

I would submit that Verity, and our peers in the $100 million to $750 million sized credit unions are Tweenies as well. We want to be full service like our larger brethren, but sometimes struggle to deliver as efficiently due to cost constraints, scale constraints and efficiency constraints.

A good example of this is business services. A great many of the big (read > $1 billion) credit unions offer this. They have the resources to build a department from scratch and absorb that cost until the business supports itself. Tweenie credit unions desperately want to offer business services. It’s good for the credit union and it’s good for the business community. The Tweenie credit union, however, has a shorter timeline for success because it may not have the resources to support a startup operation for too long.

That is where the beauty of our cooperative nature comes in. There are many areas where credit unions can (and do) share resources to create efficiency and provide better value to our membership. Some examples include core processing, mortgage lending, business services, ATM processing and the list goes on. I just read in CU Times that Telesis Credit Union in California has purchased a nationwide auto buying service and has created a credit union auto dealership with a national reach. Their plan is to offer equity ownership to interested credit unions so every credit union, regardless of size has an opportunity to participate. Kudos to them!

It’s cooperation like this that allows Tweenies like Verity to compete successfully with community and national banks who are many times our size. As credit unions, including Verity continue to grow, let us never forget the cooperative nature that got us here in the first place!