Technology Your Credit Union Can Ignore for Now

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By Robert McGarvey

You already know which technology goes on your must-get list. From mobile banking and mobile remote deposit capture to biometric authorizations—we recently reviewed five must-haves.

And then there is the technology that—very probably—you can ignore for now.

Note: different credit unions may have different necessities. Some years ago I was talking with a mid-sized Washington State credit union that told me they had iPhone, Android, and Windows mobile banking apps. Windows? I was stunned, and then, duh, it hit me that Washington is the mother ship for Microsoft Windows. So, while a Windows mobile app may not be a smart decision for most credit unions, it was for this one.

Your members may in fact demand something we say is unnecessary. Listen to them and not me.

But here’s a look at four technologies that, right now, are on the easy-to-ignore pile for many credit unions.

Personal Financial Management tools. It was maybe five years ago when financial institutions—credit unions included—rushed to provide members with PFM suites, generally inside online banking. By now, some of those institutions have quietly taken down their PFM. Many others have it tucked behind an obscure tab. Why?

Usage is anemic, credit union executives tell me. The reason, many say, is that members are reluctant to input account data about their relationships to other financial institutions, and incomplete PFM data is near to worthless.

Another reason PFM stalled is that we have shifted into a nation of mobile banking users and, honestly, many PFM suites simply are hard to use on small mobile screens. Of course that’s a fixable problem, but with usage so low, there’s not presently much energy thrown at PFM.

PFM can be ignored by institutions that never offered it and, as for those with it, monitor usage, and be ready to pull the plug when not enough members use it.

P2P. Suddenly there is substantial interest in person to person payments – it’s a technology that appears to be close to going mainstream. So, why shouldn’t credit unions pounce on it?  Because—at least for now—the play seems to be among financial giants such as Visa, Chase, and PayPal (Venmo). Additionally, there likely will be new entrants among Google, Facebook, Snapchat, and other non-banks. This isn’t a case of the dust not settling yet; it’s more analogous to an active dust storm where there’s no visibility.

Monitor P2P closely. Younger members particularly appear to be attracted to it as a way to settle debts and P2P is becoming a check alternative in those crowds.

Even Boomers are using it, often to send money to Millennial relatives.

Look for ways to get your debit card involved but know that this space is fast-moving, so stay flexible.

Watch Apps. It was just two years ago that the Apple Watch went on sale—in April 2015—and there was a rush to introduce watch apps for banking. But if you don’t have an app, don’t sweat it. Sources tell us that many institutions with watch apps get less than 1% of their traffic that way, and the numbers aren’t growing.

And completely forget Android watches. Apple claims 75% or more of watch traffic.

Could this change? Definitely. What watches presently lack is a killer app that justifies the cost of the hardware. But if such an app were introduced, there would be a rush to buy watches, and that could stimulate a stampede into watch banking.

Tablet apps. In the most recent quarter, iPad sales dropped 13% year-over-year (YOY). That marked 13 consecutive quarters of YOY declines, per IDC.

IDC found an 8.5% drop in sales YOY for other tablet makers.

To be clear, tablets aren’t dead—Apple sold 8.9 million units in the most recent quarter—but the excitement is over.

Many of us are turning to phones to do just about everything.

The bottomline: some institutions admit they are refreshing their tablet apps at a much more leisurely pace than their phone apps. Others, without tablet apps, say they have downgraded the priority in their innovation time table.

That’s smart thinking. Most users can do most of their banking in a phone app. A tablet app might be nice to have, but it’s not a must-have.

Know this: there’s lot of technology out there. It all sounds great. But before investing, ask this: how does it support my credit union, its business goals, and member needs?  And keep asking until you are persuaded that the investment will pack a real ROI.

Today’s Essential Credit Union Technology Upgrades

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By Robert McGarvey

Accept that you have to spend money on tech to compete as a credit union. That is fact. But the puzzle for many credit union executives is deciding what technology is essential—and what can be backburnered?

The list of absolutely essential technology—per many third party experts, as well as senior credit union executives—is surprisingly short. There are just five on this list, and very likely—especially for larger credit unions—at least two are already in service.

There are a lot of shiny new objects in financial tech, but remember the ones you need to pay attention to are on a list that is short.

So is the list of technology you can absolutely ignore, but that’s the topic of my next blog post.

For this blog, here’s your must-have shopping list.

Mobile banking. Nobody has an exact count of credit unions with mobile banking apps, but a guess is that perhaps one in two don’t have one. Malauzai, a developer of mobile banking apps, does an annual count in Apple’s App Store, and the most recent tally of mobile banking apps was 5,700. That includes both banks and credit unions.

CUNA’s most recent credit union tally is 5,857. There’s a like number for banks. Do the math and that means only one in two has a mobile banking app, and that just is unwise.

The future of banking is mobile.

There are more low-cost mobile banking apps aimed at credit unions. Smart credit unions are checking them out.

Mobile card self-service. Multiple experts finger member self-service tools as a key upgrade. It’s a fact: members like having the ability to turn a card on or off with a few clicks. They also want to be able to change a PIN. Some advanced tool kits allow members to bar spending at certain merchants or to turn their international usage on or off. And many now want to do all this within the mobile banking app they frequently use. That cuts use of a credit union’s call center, while empowering its members. It’s a win-win.

mRDC has increasingly emerged as a must-have, and consumer enthusiasm for mobile Remote Deposit Capture remains strong. According to researchers at Celent, 2,700 institutions went live with mRDC just in the last two years. Celent’s Bob Meara estimates that 6,000 financial institutions have mRDC, leaving 4,000 without it. Don’t stay in that minority.

Core API tools are essential according to Cornerstone Advisors. It sounds techy, but it’s not as techy as you may fear. These tools—aka Application Protocol Interfaces—help apps and widgets interface with, say, core systems, and smart credit unions are using them to build custom savings widgets, debt calculators, and in some cases, even writing their own mobile banking app. Even better, many of these new APIs are highly user friendly, requiring little technical sophistication from the credit union to get them up and running. It’s a real trend to monitor in 2017.

Online account opening. This is a huge battleground. Just about all the big banks and credit unions offer online account opening, but the majority of smaller institutions lag behind. That needs to change. It is very possible to meet KYC requirements when opening an account online. For example, many institutions require multiple proofs of identity or put holds on deposited funds in new accounts. There are plenty of ways to safeguard the credit union and its members.

But a new kind of member demands the convenience of online account opening. Many online banking platforms offer these tools; some mobile banking apps also do.

It’s become a must-have.

That’s a short list—just five items. But it’s a roadmap to survival.

Don’t have all of them? Start investigating how to get the tech you lack. More and more vendors seek to serve the small credit union market. That means there are now a lot of choices.

Next up: a guide to tech your credit union can ignore for now.

Five Tactics for Marketing Your Credit Union in 2017

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By Robert McGarvey

Face facts: you have to market to survive, and nowadays, lots of credit unions need to have survival on their minds. The herd is thinning. What can you do to come out a survivor?

Marketing is not in the credit union DNA. That’s reality. In the industry’s formative years, a factory or a brewery opened in a town, and eventually, a credit union sprouted out of the workers’ needs to get financial services. Many of the workers in fact banked at the credit union.

Life was easy; it was good…

But life changes. Meanwhile, the big banks aggressively market. So do most of the biggest credit unions.

To get new members you need to get noticed. You need to get out the word that credit unions are a better deal.

Credit unions have a brilliant selling platform. For the vast majority of people, they really are a better way to bank. Maybe the 1% need the full services of a money center bank, but the 99% don’t.

So how do credit unions get out the word?

Focus on Facebook. That’s advice from multiple credit union digital experts.  Their point is that Millennials in particular spend a lot of time there – but by now so do many from many generations. Word of advice: find a half-dozen credit union pages on Facebook that you admire, and ask how yours can be that good. Many point to Navy Federal, BECU, and Digital as leaders. But hunt until you find ones you admire, and get your page to the same level.

Also explore buying Google Adwords—a tool set well-explained in this article on the CUNA website. Put simply, Adwords lets a credit union buy particular keywords that connect ads to consumers through their searches. The key is buying only words that work for you and that are reasonably specific. Used well, Adwords are a goldmine for savvy marketers. Used indiscriminately, it’s a fast track to high costs with few benefits. Do the research first.

 Find Your Niche. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Leave that to the mega banks. Focus in on a particular audience—and a particular set of needs—and go hard after it. A $50 million credit union can’t imitate Chase. But it can provide just the services needed by corn farmers in a few Midwestern counties, and that’s a pathway to success.

Know Your Membersand Potential Members. Tempe, AZ marketer Mike Jones said that his client Canyon State Credit Union in Arizona dug deep into the personalities of the new members it hoped to recruit. And it hit upon a surprising insight: they are attracted to long form posts, especially on Facebook. Standard advice is keep such items short and snappy. But Grand Canyon has found it gets better results with more info.

Jones elaborated: “we’ve found that for Canyon State Credit Union that long-form content does much better on Facebook than shorter, less informative content—at least for the particular audience segment that they are targeting. When we added more long-form content to their posts, it increased per-post engagement by 100% which led to an increase in new member leads from Facebook.”

That’s a powerful insight. Know what will engage your prospective members, and give it to them. Don’t be shy about using trial-and-error to get there. Track results and modify accordingly.

Ask Your Members for Help. Probably the single most powerful growth tool for any credit union is enlisting current members to help. Many people don’t join credit unions because they don’t understand the benefits. Then, too, many of us are skeptical of claims made by businesses, credit unions included. So get members to tell their friends about the credit union advantage.

How to persuade them? Just ask.

Give them talking points, such as “member-owned” and “here to serve members, not distant shareholders.” Stress benefits, such as very competitive loan rates, which are often the best in town, for instance. And let your members loose.

They will be doing their friends a favor telling them about credit unions.

Get the leadership active.  That’s more advice from Mike Jones who said, “Have your CEO and board members and other key executive leaders post (or re-post) content from the credit union on their social profiles. This is especially impactful on Linkedin for those credit unions that offer products and services for businesses, as their leadership’s personal networks can prove to be their best means of outreach to new customers.”

Bottom line: know that today it’s up to you to implement tactics for growing membership—the credit union that does that is securing its own survival.

Five Facts You Need to Know to Maximize Your Credit Union’s Digital Presence

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By Robert McGarvey

It’s a digital world today in financial services. That puts pressure on every credit union to polish its digital game. John Reske, vice president at UMass Five College Federal Credit Union in Massachusetts, underscored the point: “Members expect you to provide digital platforms and channels so they can conduct their banking when and how they choose.”

Kirk Drake, CEO of Maryland CUSO Ongoing Operations, and a digital maven, stressed that Millennials—roughly those born between 1981 and 2000—demand digital contact points. Without good digital, suggested Drake, a credit union can kiss the idea of Millennial members goodbye.

What does a credit union need to stay in the digital game? This may all seem more daunting than it in fact is. Experts point to just five must knows.

Have a mobile banking channel. By some estimates as many as half of all credit unions lack a mobile banking channel. That won’t lead to prosperity going forward. There are now low-cost, off-the-shelf mobile banking platforms that make it easy for just about any credit union to go live.

How slick does mobile banking need to be? That depends on your budget and membership. At the very least offer bill pay, balance checking, and an easy way to shift money among accounts. A person-to-person payment tool is a plus. So is the ability to monitor accounts the member has at other institutions. Biometric sign-on (often via Apple Touch ID) is a real plus.

Know that some visionary credit unions are talking about shifting priorities away from online banking and into mobile, as that is the direction of traffic growth. Some say they just aren’t updating online as frequently as mobile.

That’s your call. Just know that mobile has become a crucial relationship builder.

Create a vibrant website. There’s a temptation to think websites are yesterday’s news but the reality is that this has become a credit union’s primary marketing face. Make it a pretty one, and also make sure it is as easy as possible to open a new account online. View a website as your 21st century billboard. It’s the crucial marketing tool today.

Claim—and populate—your Facebook and Google Places pages. This is advice from Terence Channon of NewLead, a digital consulting firm based in Florida. He added: “if you are not monitoring these platforms, then customers are not happy and could be turning up at an old address or sending in messages expecting a reply.”

Note: Probably, there are plenty of channels you can safely ignore. Twitter for instance, is ignored by many credit unions. But here’s the rub: even if your Twitter account is inactive, a member may expect a response to a Tweet directed there. To the extent possible, take down inactive accounts so as not to confuse members. And really monitor active accounts because the people who use them expect responses within minutes.

Digital self-service. Said Reske, “digital platforms also allows more member self-service, which improves overall credit union efficiencies and lowers expenses.” What kinds of self-service? Many institutions are letting members turn debit cards off, and back on, when they fear they may have lost them. Others are allowing members to note foreign travels to help with credit card acceptance. Many others have built out slick new product opening tools, such as car loan apps. Many consumers want DIY financial services and digital is the low cost ticket.

Stay alert to the changing landscape. A few years ago credit unions were tripping over themselves in a rush to offer personal financial management tools, usually within the online banking channel. Now some tell me they have taken them down due to lack of use. That is the way of the digital world. In an analog, bricks and mortar universe, change seemed to evolve slowly. That isn’t so in the digital world. A few years ago many credit unions insisted they needed a Windows-based mobile banking app. Now just about none do.

Many now are talking about mothballing their special iPad tablet apps, due to lack of use.

Just watch the way the wind is blowing, and move as it does.

And never forget: digital isn’t an end result; it’s a path to results. Use the tools to achieve better member service and satisfaction, and that’s what this is all about.

DDoS and Your Credit Union

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By Robert McGarvey

Just about every credit union now has an online banking presence, and that also means just about every credit union is vulnerable to a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. And lots of credit unions are falling victim. Small ones too.

The objective: to knock your online banking offline. Definitely to make it unusable by members.

But here’s a secret: just maybe the smart move is to ignore DDoS? More on that later.

For now, what you need to know about DDoS is that the attack formats continually morph. As defenses are put in place, DDoS perpetrators take a different route. A static defense—and certainly any bought a year or three ago—is probably unreliable today.

Defenses aren’t impossible—by now the money center banks are well defended—but they don’t come inexpensively.

A credit union has to know it is in the attack crosshairs. Researchers at VeriSign, in its most recent DDoS report, said: “The financial sector continues to be a constant target for DDoS attacks. In Q1 2017, Verisign’s financial sector customers experienced the second highest number of DDoS attacks (28 percent) of any industry sector within Verisign’s customer base.”

Only IT has more DDoS attacks than financial services, said VeriSign.

A sliver of good news is that VeriSign said DDoS attacks were down in Q1. But the attacks that came in were more ferocious: “the average peak attack size increased 26 percent compared to the previous quarter,” said VeriSign.

VeriSign also noted that victims often become repeat victims. “Verisign observed that almost 50 percent of customers who experienced DDoS attacks in Q1 2017 were targeted multiple times during the quarter.”

DDoS mitigation firm Neustar said likewise in its recent report: “the number of times that organizations were hit multiple times has continued to increase as forecasted. In 2017, 849 of 1,010 (84%) of those organizations researched had experienced at least one DDoS attack in the previous 12 months, up from 73% in 2016. Worse, 86% of those attacked had to contend with more than one DDoS attack over the previous 12-month period, an increase from 82% reported in the previous year.”

At least some experts believe that credit unions—small ones in particular—may begin experiencing more attacks, precisely because many are essentially unprotected.

The purpose of a DDoS attack varies. Some are just malicious—maybe launched by a disgruntled former employee, perhaps a person who was turned down for a job or a loan.

Terrorist groups—some with nation state ties—have inflicted a lot of DDos on financial institutions as a political statement. Credit unions have been among the victims. As cyber warfare becomes a chief form of warfare, experts believe we will see more DDoS aimed at disrupting financial systems, which help to define nations. Disrupt the money, and the country is disrupted.

Also worrisome are the attacks launched by criminals who themselves want money—that is, they use DDoS to extort payments for turning it off.

Even worse, services proliferate that allow a criminal with no technical expertise to purchase DDoS as a service. Typically these sites bill themselves as “stress testers” so a business can test its own website’s DDoS defenses. But no attempt is made to verify that the purchaser has any relationship with the target site, and the services are happy to take payment in Bitcoin, so there’s significant anonymity involved.

Where do attackers get the computing power they use to launch DDoS attacks? The traditional source has been botnets of zombie computers—usually their owners are ignorant that their malware-infected computer has become a slave to criminals.

Researchers now say that they are seeing new kinds of botnets pieced together from devices in the Internet of Things—everything from smart coffee makers to lighting. Often these devices have significant computing power with very little onboard security, and criminals have gotten clever about harnessing this resource.

The ease and ubiquity of such attacks is why many experts insist that all credit unions with an online banking presence need to have in place DDoS mitigation protections.

Trade group NAFCU, for instance, has said it expects that credit unions will be under more regulatory pressures to have cybersecurity protections in place, including for DDoS.

Kirk Drake, CEO of Ongoing Operations, a firm that specializes in helping credit unions with IT issues, added that every credit union needs a plan for how it will deal with DDos and other security incidents.

Even so, some institutions tell us they plan to tough it out, that their current strategy regarding DDoS defense is to hope for the best.

It’s hard to endorse that indifference.

But when budgets are strapped, it might not be as dumb as it seems. Researchers at Coreo have reported—based upon a survey of DDoS attacks in the United Kingdom—that of the DDoS attacks it has examined, “95% lasted less than 30 minutes, and 71% of them lasted less than 5 minutes.”

When a lot of DDoS revolves around for hire DDoS as a service providers who demand cash on the barrelhead, maybe the pockets of attackers aren’t that deep.

How angry will members be if they can’t access their accounts for a half-hour, and how many members will be impacted?

Those are the key questions.

There’s no easy answer.

It’s up to each credit union to assess the risks, tune into what regulators are insisting upon, and, ultimately, listen to their members.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Move Over Millennials…Here comes Gen Z!

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By: Joe Woods, Vice President, Sales & Relationship Management

I spend a lot of time traveling the country.  For me, air travel is time to catch up on reading, writing, and all things administrative (okay, and a few in-flight movies).

On a recent trip I came across a great read by Allison Kaplan regarding Generation Z.  I found the article, “The Next Generation Gap,” in the April issue of Delta Sky magazine.  The article cited research from David and Jonah Stillman. Then I read Preston Packer’s article for CUINSIGHT entitled “Is Your Credit Union Prepared for World War (GEN) Z?” What I read in these two articles caught me off guard.

We’ve spent the last decade focusing all of our attention on the Millennial (Gen Y) generation.  We’ve studied their traits and habits. We’ve assessed their likes and dislikes.  And now that we feel we have a good handle on this group of 80+ million Americans, here comes a whole new generation of potential credit union members:  Generation Z.

Most of us have been lumping these two generations together.  But, it is important to note that the majority of the Millennials are already in their thirties.  They’ve gotten jobs (or are sleeping on your couch), they are borrowing and depositing money, like you and I, and they are having their own children.  In fact, nearly half of Millennials are now parents themselves.  So, from a credit union perspective, they are in peak borrowing years.  Gen Z is just about to jump into the work force for the first time this summer.  They will be establishing themselves as independent for the first time.

Each generation has tendencies and traits unique to that specific group.  Generations are shaped by the significant events that occur during their development, as well as the attitudes of the generation that parents them.  These tendencies aren’t guarantees, but they do help us focus our marketing and advertising strategy.

So, what significant events occurred during the early years for Generation Z? Here’s a brief list:

  • The terrorist attacks of 9/11
  • The Boston Marathon bombing
  • The mortgage-backed securities downfall
  • The housing crisis starting in 2007
  • The bailout of banks deemed “too big to fail”
  • The Dodd-Frank Bill and Durbin Amendment
  • A Republican to Democrat switch in the oval office (and now back to Republican)

What would a generation learn from these major events?

  • Nothing can be taken for granted (terrorist attacks in our homeland)
  • If it sounds too good to be true it probably is (mortgage lending & investment crisis)
  • The big banks and our government don’t play by their own rules (bank bailout)
  • Sweeping governmental change has little effect on the greater good (Durbin & the Oval office)

So, this generation has learned some hard lessons early on. And it has shaped their outlook for the future.  They’ve learned not to have blind faith in large institutions that claim to be looking out for their best interest.  They understand that they will have to work hard to achieve and accomplish goals.  And they’ve learned that they may have to do it on their own.

I’m fortunate enough to be raising three members of Generation Z with my wife, Sharon.  My wife and I are from Generation X:  Home to Pearl Jam and the grunge rock era, the rise and fall of tech stocks, genetically modified foods, and the global warming/cooling debate.

So, what have we imparted on our Gen Z offspring?  They know that if you want something, you’re going to have to go get it.  Your own personal effort is all that you can truly control.  We’ve taught them to be skeptical of typical marketing approaches.  They are learning to ask questions and not to blindly take someone at their word.  They are cautious but assertive.

My ten-year-old son recently threw out his participation medals.  He told us he didn’t earn them so they weren’t worth keeping.  This was a significant moment for me.  My fourth-grader had come to the realization that participating, or ‘just showing up,’ wasn’t enough.  It was the work he put in that mattered to him.  That doesn’t mean that our children don’t complain when we remind them to do their chores.  They’re kids—not robot angels.  But, does anyone really enjoy dusting or taking out the trash?

My kids can’t stand TV commercials.  In fact, we’re cutting cable because they would rather watch their shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube.  Everywhere they go, there is a technological element.  They use their smartphones for school research.  They FaceTime with their grandparents and cousins.  They post pictures on multiple smartphone apps to keep in contact with friends.  David Skillman calls it “phigital”.  Everything Generation Z does physically will have a digital element.

Now, in this crazy thing we call life, my kids are a step ahead, because they know about credit unions.  Honestly, given my sixteen years in the industry, they’re probably tired of hearing me talk about the movement.  But, for those kids who have parents that bank on the dark side, how we reach out and what we say is the key.  And the depth of our story matters.  My kids want to have an impact and contribute to a better society.  Companies like Tom’s shoes speak to them because of their effort to make the world a better place.

So, how is your credit union working to make the world a better place?  It’s not a tough question to answer.  You may not give a free pair of shoes away with every loan, but our cooperative effort speaks to them.  Tell Gen Z about the good you do, how it helps them directly and how they can get involved.

Credit Union Mergers: Time to Call for a Slowdown?

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By Robert McGarvey

There’s one indisputable fact about credit union mergers: there have been a lot of them.

Callahan Associates co-founder Chip Filson – about whom, more later – has counted up the number of credit union mergers and he said there have been a staggering 1,533 credit union mergers in the past five years.

Filson also noted that some merger partners are serial players. He found one credit union that had been involved in 14 mergers, another credit union in nine, and seven had been involved in four each.

Is this good for all credit unions? That’s the question that needs to be asked. Loudly and soon..

In 1997 there were 11,659 credit unions, according to CUNA numbers. Now there are 5,785, and the number is falling.

Those numbers have many voices saying that it’s time to put the brakes on credit union mergers.

Small credit unions—usual merger targets—play an outsized role in the political landscape. “Small credit unions prop up larger ones politically,” said Sarah Snell Cooke, a longtime observer of the movement and now a Maryland based consultant.

Her point: small credit unions pack an emotional punch with members of Congress and state legislatures. Nobody dislikes them, at least nobody in politics.

Should we call a halt to all mergers?

No can do. Some need to happen.

I have talked to credit union CEOs who, off the record, told me they had merged with such-and-such credit union under pressure from regulators and/or local politicians. Those CEOs insisted to me they in many ways did not want to do the merger—the process of integrating even a tiny credit union’s members and account data is a hassle, they tell me, and the opportunity for embarrassing mistakes is plentiful. Many CEOs lose sleep over these integrations.

Count those mergers as acts of mercy.

Other mergers happen because a small credit union’s CEO retires – and the job proves hard to fill. So after an unsuccessful search the board waves the white flag and folds the credit union into another.

Others have grown weary of keeping up with technology.

There are lots of reasons to merge. Sometimes the reasons seem good.

But then there are other kinds of mergers, where a credit union – and you know two or three of them – does mergers because it has become convinced that unless it grows it will perish. And that’s despite already being over a billion dollars in assets. So it has a hunger to gobble up smaller credit unions.

Which leads us to Filson’s controversial statement:  “Unfortunately, there appears to be a growing number of mergers that amount to nothing more than a giveaway of the smaller credit union’s assets to the larger credit union.”

He added, “What about the collected wealth of years of member-ownership? Out the window and into the pockets of exiting managers and the coffers of a larger financial cooperative.”

Not everybody thinks Filson has this right.

James L. This, a credit union consultant who has been involved in a significant number of mergers, has said that outright greedy grabs are uncommon. “I have heard stories about it—although I have never seen it happen in a merger I have been involved with. But I don’t think this practice is widespread or pandemic.”

Is it happening or isn’t it? Nobody knows, in part because there isn’t much transparency in credit union mergers. A lot happens in secret.

But what we do know—without doubt—is that the shrinking credit union count is bad for the movement. “Five to ten years from now the credit union movement probably won’t exist because of so many mergers,” shrugged Mansel Guerry, CEO of CUSO CULIANCE.

Guerry knows he is being dramatic, but his core point is valid. Five to ten years from now—if current trends continue—the credit union movement will look very different. And it just may have become unrecognizable.

Up in Washington State, credit union consultant Marvin Umholtz said, “I predict that there will be fewer than 2,000 credit unions in the U.S. by year-end 2020 – and the vast majority of them will be $500 million in assets and larger.”

That’s predicting a lot of mergers over the next few years.

Can it be stopped?

Some mergers—the mercy mergers—should and probably will go on.

It’s the others where maybe it’s time to call a halt.

Here’s a fact: if money is sometimes paid for merged credit unions, that means they have value, and if they have value they also probably could be saved as independent financial institutions.

There are many ways to help that, if the movement and its regulators embrace the belief that more credit unions are better than fewer. CEOs could be shared across multiple institutions, said Cooke. Back-office and compliance tasks could be provided as a service to many small credit unions, freeing them from the burden and costs of implementing their own solutions, Cooke added. And big credit unions could make it a habit—as State Employees’ Credit Union has done—to support small credit unions.

There are many ways to throw life preservers to struggling credit unions.

It won’t happen without broad commitment. But if enough believe that the soul of the credit union movement is the small credit union, enough will also agree that saving them—not merging them out of existence—is what the whole credit union movement needs.

Starting about now.