The P.A.

A weekly address from Patrick Adams,
President of St. Louis Community Credit Union

You Can’t Run From An Obligation

On September 28th, 2009, posted in: Uncategorized by

The phone rings last week and it’s one of my life-long buddies calling to complain about his bank.  Given that I have spent countless hours over many years mired in the futility of trying to convince him to move his account to a credit union, I had little empathy for his situation.  But given that he more than once pulled me up by the bootstraps, I lent him an ear and avoided the deep-seeded desire to hit him right between the eyes with an obnoxious, ill-timed “I told you so.”

So he proceeds amidst some extremely colorful language to describe the means by which the big, bad banker was stickin’ it to him.  To my surprise, and I’m sure to his as well, I calmly stated that the problem was his and that the bank had done nothing wrong as far as I could tell.  The silence on the other end of the phone was an indication that I had hurt his feelings – big time.  Oh well…it is what it is.

He was mad that the bank had made a couple of attempts to clear an automated debit and, because he had no money in his account, he was charged their “insufficient funds” fee.  “They shouldn’t have done that,” he screamed.  I responded: “Here’s the deal, man. If you authorize a company to take money from your account, and they send the authorization through electronically (one, two, three, four or 19 times), then the bank has the requirement (I emphatically repeated the word “requirement” as a means by which to drive home the point) in conjunction with the checking account agreement to attempt to clear any item they receive (paper or electronic) if and when presented.”

I asked why his checking account had zero money in it.  He proceeds to tell me that he thought if he brought his account to zero, he didn’t think the bank would do anything with the electronic request. I responded, “DUDE!!!  You can’t run from an obligation.”  Come to find out, he was trying to hide from a payday loan – he had previously authorized repayment as an automatic withdrawal from his checking account.

I could tell he was struggling.  Payday loan, insufficient funds fees, zero money in checking, and worst of all, he’s ruining his Chexsystems file and credit report by running from an obligation.  My buddy was in some trouble.  He didn’t need me piling on at this point, but I felt it imperative that I circle back around and remind him that only he knows the balance in his checking account.  I had to say something, as much as it may pain him…“Hey, big guy.  Do yourself a favor – balance your checkbook.”

The conversation ended up more like an intervention.  Sure, I felt sorry for him, but enough was enough.  He had to get his act together.  The cost of his poor money management was as expensive as any bad habit one might have.  Balancing his checking account was a great place to start.

I love my buddy, but he screwed up.  I had to tell him.  Sometimes that’s what friends do.

Recession Isn’t Over ‘Til It’s Over

On September 21st, 2009, posted in: Uncategorized by

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently announced that the recession is over.  Really?  I’ll bet you that Mr. Bernanke’s valiant pronouncement caught you much like it caught me – frozen in my tracks.  My thought was “Did I hear that right?”  Sort of like if you turned on the radio and heard that Cardinals’ General Manager John Mozeliak had traded Albert Pujols.  The news would put you in shock, followed by a guttural, inaudible sort of “huh?”  Yeah, that’s what would happen, then a knee-jerk reaction that would be both extremely audible and bring into question a person’s sanity. It would sound like this: “What’s he thinking?”

I’m sure Mr. Bernanke got his information from an endless database showing that some key indicators had moved far enough above zero that he felt comfortable in making such a statement.  Believe me, it’s a complicated, convoluted and cock-eyed world of numbers that Mr. Bernanke and his band of merry men pour through to gain their perspective.  I might suggest that somewhere in their analysis of the economy they get outside of the books and the beltway.  In other words, “the recession is over” may be a hard sell on the streets of small town America.  I’m just guessing that he hasn’t convinced many people.

To Mr. Bernanke’s credit, he did qualify his statement to say that we were a long way from recovery.  With the qualifier attached, Mr. Bernanke’s initial position seems a little watered down.  Thus, it begs the question: which “R” word should we really give our attention to: recession or recovery?  Since the recession is presumably over and represents the past, recovery should be the focus of discussion.   Okay, when’s the recovery?

Job creation is key to a recovery.  Folks need jobs.  With jobs, consumers will spend more money – that will, in turn, create more jobs.  Keep spending money and we’ll sustain job growth, which will further insure recovery.  If we start spending on our own and do it without the façade of government-induced stimulus, Mr. Bernanke will jump to the podium, and grab the microphone and the attention of an entire country when he announces that the recovery is in full swing.  That’s what we really want to hear.

The fact that the recession is over really means nothing to the folks on Main Street USA. Without the creation of some good jobs for those who are unemployed, we’re saying “no way” on the whole “recession is over” gig.  It means nothing until the part-timers get their hours back.  It means nothing until employers quit furloughing full-timers.  Jobs need to be prevalent.  That’s what we want.  Thanks, Mr. Bernanke, for leading us away from the recession.  Now if you help lead us into a full-fledged recovery, you’ll have our undivided attention.

As a sidebar, Mr. Bernanke should take note that President Bush announced “Mission Accomplished” within a very short window of time after the war in Iraq had begun.  While he may have been misunderstood, his intimation was that the war had ended.  That was 6 1/2 years ago.  I guess the lesson to be learned is that timing is everything…or as Yogi Berra would say: “It’s not over ‘til it’s over.”

An Open Letter To Oprah About The Value Of Credit Unions

On September 14th, 2009, posted in: Uncategorized by 2 Comments

Dear Oprah:

I think you are one of our great American treasures.  If serving people is the standard bearer for measuring one’s contribution to society’s well-being, then you are on a very short list of the best of the best.  Thanks for all that you do – and I know that you agree there is more to do – helping people, that is.

As a 52-year-old guy, I’m probably not the demographic you expect to receive letters from.  But if you’re going to hit a home-run, you have to swing the bat.  So, here’s one more letter.  I can’t imagine how many of these you receive, so I’ll be brief.

Oprah, we need your help to support credit unions as a means by which to increase peoples’ standard of living and better their lifestyles.  You are so much about providing value to your viewers that promoting credit unions would be a natural for you and your brand.  Next time you do one of those “your favorite things show” would be a really good time to talk about credit unions.  Seriously, your favorite stuff is all about providing great value, making people feel good, creating comfort and improving people’s lives.  That being said, credit unions are right up your alley.  I promise!

Talk about an exciting, invigorating show – oh, my gosh!  Okay, maybe I’m fudging a little on the whole “jump up and down and scream” piece, but Oprah, you’re smart enough to know that folks have to start putting more money in their own pocket(s) versus the financial services monsters’ pockets.  Big banks are getting rich on the back of Main Street and, as a result, they are hurting middle America.  The “harder I work, the behinder I get” is discussion heard around way too many kitchen tables.  How ‘bout you and I start working together to ensure people understand credit unions as a better option?

Oprah, here are just a few adjectives that should describe a person’s financial services relationship: trusted, safe, caring, loving, ethical, dedicated, supportive and beneficial.  Unfortunately, behemoth banks don’t conjure up these warm and fuzzy thoughts.  Nope…but credit unions do.  Really Oprah, I’m not kidding. Unfortunately, the big bank corporate mantra is to make money for their stockholders.  That’s not what’s needed in the neighborhoods that tune in to watch your show on a daily basis.

Thanks, Oprah, for all you do.  I sense that if credit unions got together with you on a regular basis to provide financial education, we’d have some serious momentum toward making folks’ lives a lot better.  Imagine an exciting, made-for-TV production that would allow us to get the message of smart financial management across to millions of people.  You know…”teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.”

On a personal note, I’m probably your next Dr. Oz.  No, seriously, I really am.  Let’s get together and talk over lunch sometime – my treat.

New Tagline Speaks For Itself

On September 8th, 2009, posted in: Uncategorized by

I had some exhilarating conversation with our marketing guy, Mikey “O” last week regarding advertising and the like.  The “O-Man” is pretty informed on this type of subject matter and, as a result, I offered up my undivided attention.  We attacked the subject of “clarity of message” as it related specifically to the use of our recent tagline “The Social Conscience of Banking.”

“O” and a number of his peers in the world of advertising have a concern that our chosen “tag” may not transfer well to consumers (the target audience).  I disagreed – if for no other reason but to create spirited debate.  I love to debate, especially if I have a chance at winning.  But really, the “O” and I are on the same page.  Most importantly, let’s get it right.

The message we’re attempting to convey in our use of the tagline “The Social Conscience of Banking” is pretty simple.  Certainly it is a lot simpler than “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”  But the question is not dealing with simplicity.  The question by Mike and his fraternity of advertising brethren deals with clarity – will people get it?  People get the “Big Mac.”  Will people get our tagline, as well?

What does “Social Conscience of Banking” mean to the consumer is the crux of the debate. If there is too much thought required by the consumers, the message will be lost.  It doesn’t matter how clever or thought-provoking the tagline is.  The message will be lost if not easily understood.

I argue that “The Social Conscience of Banking” speaks to consumers with a clear, concise message that the Credit Union is about people first and foremost.  When other financial intermediaries are blinded by a for-profit-at-all-cost mentality, SLCCU is focused on helping people. We have a clear conscience.  We sleep well at night knowing that our decisions are made to help people.  When others focus on making their “bones” on the backs of working-class citizens, SLCCU is focused on “crawling in the foxhole” with our members.  Clear…right?

If you dissect “The Social Conscience of Banking” and check Webster’s Dictionary, “social” means “devoted to or characterized by friendly companionship.” Okay…that’s what we want.  Pretty clear?  Yep, I think so.  Now, how about “conscience?”  Webster defines it as “the inner sense of what is right or wrong in one’s conduct or motives.”  That’s us too.  Put them together and what do you have…devotion to doing what’s right for our members/friends.

St. Louis Community Credit Union is “The Social Conscience of Banking.”  We hope you and your fellow consumers agree.  We’d love your input.