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January 28, 2014

The State of Credit Unions in 2014, As Predicted by The "Crystal Ball" of Google

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by Ron Daly

Let's face it - Googling stuff is fun. It has been from the very beginning and it's still a hoot.

Sometimes, Google can show you the future. I decided to put Google's "crystal ball" capabilities to the test and see what 2014 had in store for the industry. I simply put

  • "In 2014, credit unions will *"
  • "In 2014, credit unions must *"
  • "In 2014, credit unions should *"

into the search bar and hit return. And voila! all the interesting tidbits about what the industry should focus on this year. Some highlights: 

"[Credit Unions] must focus on enhancing members’ cross-channel experiences, says Belinda Caillouet, chair of the CUNA Technology Council..."

"Charting Your Course Through 2014", creditunionsmagazine.com

Agreed. Members are leaning hard on technology and demanding more channels that work well with one another. That includes mobile apps, online banking and ATM/branch services that all play well together and stay up-to-date and easy-to-use.

"Financial marketers will be accountable for analyzing the real results of content marketing strategies in 2014. Because every channel ultimately affects all of the others, attribution modeling allows marketers to credit a specific ad or touch point along a sales funnel rather than just the last material viewed or clicked."

"Digital Marketing Trends for Banks and Credit Unions in 2014", TheFinancialBrand.com

Yep, right on the money. The technology we're using to sell to members is getting better and we can start making sense of data and offering products and services that make the most sense for each individual member.

“In the next 12 months, mobile will overtake online in terms of number of users. It already has more transactions."

"5 Mobile Trends to Watch in 2014", cutimes.com

I'll be interested to see the outcome of this one. Mobile's a big part of people's lives, but can credit unions rise to that challenge and create great mobile app experiences in the space of a year? A year, mind you, that's already down to eleven months as of Saturday of this week?

"In 2014, the trusted role of banks and credit unions as the collector of funds, provider of loans, processor of payments and advisor of financial relationships will continue to come under fire from non-traditional players including new financial organizations (neobanks), hardware providers, third party payment processors, and mobile app developers that merchants and consumers are using to chip away at the traditional financial services model."

"Top Ten Banking Trends for 2014", bai.org

More sharks in a still-pretty-small tank? This is the moment CUs have been waiting for — the moment to set themselves apart from the upstarts and prove they can be valued, trusted financial partners by offering sensible services and can't-be-beat member interactions.

"To experience loan growth in 2014, credit unions will need to originate significantly more consumer loans to offset the expected declines in mortgage originations."

"Marketing Overview and Data Report", catalyststrategic.org

I'm really curious about what kinds of loans credit unions will be promoting in place of mortgages (assuming they cut back on mortgage promotions, which some won't). Credit cards? Student loans? Where's the "heat" in lending in 2014?

“Looking ahead to 2014, credit unions can expect to see the CFPB expand its fair lending focus,” said Bundy. “The CFPB’s regulatory agenda unmistakably signals that fair lending will be a focal point of new rule making starting in 2014.”

"CUNA Mutual Group Anticipates Broader Regulatory Focus in 2014", cunamutual.com

"...The CFPB has the luxury in 2014 to move on to topics other than mortgages, such as overdraft, prepaid cards, Reg CC disclosures, and debt collection. To keep track of all of it, take advantage of various resources out there—besides NAFCU, and the CFPB, many law firms have compliance blogs and news alerts you can subscribe to for free. Knowledge is power, so grab on!"

"Credit union industry experts: What’s in store for 2014", cuinsight.com

I bundled those together for a reason: the CFPB will be stepping up its game in 2014. Credit unions will need to arm themselves with information, as mentioned in the second story. There are plenty of great resources out there, both free and paid.

Any other big predictions for this year? Leave them in the comments section.

January 02, 2014

Our Top Ten Posts of 2013

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by Ron Daly

With 2013 in the rear-view mirror, we wanted to take a look back at the year that was. There were plenty of stories that grabbed our readers' attention, from shakeups in leadership to advances in technology to new takes on the industry and where we're going.

Take a peek back at our top ten posts of 2013:

  1. Introvert Media - What "Private" Social Networks Tell Us About the Future of Online Sharing
  2. Watch out for the eStatement Police!
  3. Just One Presentation Taught Me Five Lessons
  4. eManners: What Does "Polite" Look Like Nowadays?
  5. Filson Calls for Cooperative NCUA
  6. Have You Ever Spent $1,000 on Candy?
  7. The Cooperative Trust Changes Hands - What Does That Mean for the Future?
  8. Why Didn't WE Think Of That?
  9. The Pocket Merger: Your Phone is Becoming Your Wallet. Will Your CU Be Prepared?
  10. Let's Cut Down the Theme Song and Get to the Bar.

We're always happy to have you here at the CU Soapbox. Stay tuned in 2014 - there's plenty more to come!

December 20, 2013

The Gifts You Give in Seconds are the Best Gifts of All

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by Ron Daly

Uh-oh, gang. I forgot to get a few gifts this year. Which is to say, all of them.

That's right, I took my own advice, skipped Black Friday, and didn't get a single present for anyone on my gift list. What on earth should I do now?!

I got it. I'll give them the Internet.

Well, no, not "the Internet". I'm just going to give my friends something digital instead of something physical. It's easier than ever to give someone a thoughtful gift that needs no wrapping, no exchanging and no batteries.

Let's start with...

• My Favorite TV Junkie: 

For the couch potato who has everything, here's a gift subscription to Netflix. Now they can watch TV all day long from any device or from the comfort of their living room.

• My Friend, The Frequent Flier:

I have friends that love to travel. Several airlines will let you buy miles for someone else. Even if you can't give them a full trip, you can take the sting out of their next outing by giving them a few thousand miles for a reasonable price.

• My Cousin, the Shop-aholic:

There are plenty of people, like my cousin, who thrill at the act of shopping more than the actual gifts on the other end. For her, an Amazon Gift Card that is applied automatically. She can shop til she drops, and in seconds.

• My Friend "Forgetful Frida"

Poor, poor Frida. She can't remember anything! That's why I treated her to Evernote Premium, a service that saves web pages, articles and images in a snap from your iPad, computer or phone. Hopefully she can use it to remember my gift.

• My neighbor, who's still not a credit union member

The poor guy...he just won't get with it! Fortunately, my credit union is offering a "refer a friend" program that gives me a bonus when he signs up. I'm adding a member to my credit union, getting $10 and helping a friend. It's a three-for-one!

• For Anyone, and For a Good Cause

This time of year, I think about our soldiers a lot. Even after they get home, they often need our help to recover, readjust and move forward. If you want to give a gift that will benefit the giver, the recipient, and a veteran, consider giving a gift to the Wounded Warrior Project. Use this form to give a gift in someone's name to this very worthy cause.

Phew! Now that my shopping's all taken care of, I can get back to my favorite holiday pastime: putting up my inflatable lawn ornaments and showing up my neighbors for our block's Christmas decoration content.

Merry Christmas from the CU Soapbox!

November 22, 2013

Have We Finally Had Enough of "Black Friday"?

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by Ron Daly

Thanksgiving? What's Thanksgiving? I scarcely remember.

The days of slaving over a hot stove to produce the perfect turkey and watching endless hours of football and falling asleep on the couch are gone. Now, it's all about sales.

Black Friday, that long-loved gem of the retail industry, is only a week away. Or is it actually less than a week away? Many stores are choosing to start their "Black Friday" on Thursday evening, so the deals are actually only six days out from now.

Why the bump-up? Because stores want to jump-start the frenzy that is the holiday shopping season, their busiest and most lucrative season of the year. Just like your local soft-rock station wants to start playing Christmas music earlier and earlier each year, stores are trying to get people frothing at the mouth over retail deals. I'd wager it won't be long before we have a "Black November" — an entire month of shopping and scrambling around stores as Halloween costumes get chucked out of major retail chains around October 15 and all the December Holiday decorations go up instead. What a nightmare. 

Maybe I'm not alone in my frustration with the ever-earlier holiday season. Nielsen reports that only 13% of shoppers are going to physical stores on Black Friday this year. There are conflicting reports from other sources, but this Time article corrects the confusion with a simple look at the numbers: while some 30-40% of all shoppers plan to shop on Black Friday (Black Thursday-into-Friday?), very few plan on doing it at a physical location. Most will be shopping online, from the warmth and comfort of home. 

They'll never even have to put down their turkey leg.

Plenty of Hustle, Not So Much Bustle

We've come to the age of "online-first" shopping. People are still snapping up those great deals and printing their coupons and getting the most for their money...they're just doing it from their living room. Why go get mobbed by a bunch of crazy people that are fighting over a toaster oven? Just order it and have it delivered. Amazon Prime pays for itself surprisingly quickly.

Retailers have the wrong idea, spreading the start-point of Black Friday over into Thursday. They should be making those hours smaller and tighter for physical shoppers and have in-store pickup for online shoppers. Now that would be handy - have a table where everything you ordered a few weeks before waits for you – already gift-wrapped, tagged, and ready to go. Then, if you're on your way out and you have an inkling, pick up some last-minute impulse items. That cuts down on labor-hours, upkeep, clean-up, parking frustrations and rowdy crowds.

Look at what stores like GameStop are doing with video game systems - pre-orders preferred and even rewarded with extras, yet the gaming nerds are still allowed to line up on the street. The online shoppers AND the physical shoppers get their just reward, without a lot of eye-gouging and body-blows. Better still, the store knows how many units to order in advance of the release of the product. Maybe that idea scales up easily, maybe it doesn't...but does ruining a bunch of people's Thanksgiving dinner really build excitement anymore?

People are more reliant than ever on the online channel to get things done. That goes for retailers and for credit unions. We can't just wish it was different and that people will like going to physical locations again. We have to meet demand where we find it.

And let me tell you, the only Friday event I care about after Thanksgiving is "Leftovers Day". Turkey sandwiches with stuffing and mashed potatoes, here I come.

October 29, 2013

Today's Not An Anniversary You Really Want to Celebrate.

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by Ron Daly

Torrential rain. Winds up to 115 mph. An estimated $68 billion in damages. Portions of the eastern seaboard still reeling.

It's hard to believe a year has already come and gone since Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey. It's not an anniversary you really want to celebrate but it's an important one to mark. It's a prime example of how credit unions are supposed to be rooted in their communities and how, as a community unto itself, credit unions reach out and help one another.

CUs help members

In the aftermath of the storm, stories came pouring in from New Jersey- and New York-area credit unions re-opening and powering through to help members. Some offered overdraft forgiveness, some offered low-rate loans for repairs; a brave and thoughtful few opened up their branches to those displaced by the storm, giving them a warm place to rest, recharge their portable electronics and get their finances in order for the displacement and for the recovery.

If there's a better example of "the credit union difference" than these community-based institutions offering the kindness and care that members need in a time of crisis, what might it be? Because this is the clearest indication to me of what makes credit unions special — a degree of true empathy. It's an empathy that applies to more than money; it applies to the human condition.

CUs help one another

In the wake of the destruction came the cleanup effort. Some issues were tackled quickly and with the kind of focus and calm needed to keep operations on the rails. Some issues have taken quite a long time to address, and some still go unresolved.

One good example of CUs lending themselves a hand? CUaid.coop, which sprang into action collecting donations from credit unions across the nation. The money got passed along to those credit unions that needed it the most. We started the rebuilding process almost immediately after the destruction took place. How many other industries get money going from company to company that quickly? How many other industries bother?

CUs could always do more

The Edelman Trust Barometer tells us that financial services is the least trusted industry worldwide. What can we do to counteract the skepticism and reticence in members and turn the "trust equation" back in our favor?

Stories like the ones above are a good starting place. Showing members that credit unions really do care about their safety and security goes a long way in building our credibility. But how do you really drive that home?

  1. Be Visible - Before, During, and After — If your service area is under threat, you need to be in communication with members throughout the process. When will branches close? Where should they go with concerns or questions? What should they do if they return home to extensive damage or, worse yet, outright destruction? While you're at it, reach out to disaster planning departments in your city or town and ask how you can contribute, volunteer and improve the conditions of those who get displaced or sheltered.

  2. Make Sure Issues are Well Documented — Did an ATM get destroyed in a tornado or flooded or burned up in a fire? Let members know. Did a branch need extensive repairs? Let members know. Do members that frequent one particular branch or area of service need aid and could that aid be provided by members in other locations? Let members know. Don't skirt the issue, don't "dummy up" - play straight, deal fair, do good.

    Recently,  the University of Michigan Health System encouraged doctors to admit to mistakes and bad calls. Surprisingly, the number malpractice suits went down. Why? Because people prefer a company, or a provider, that doesn't try to cover things up or fudge the facts. They want answers and clear communication. Give it to them.

  3.  Give Members the Tools They Need — Do your members know everything they need to know about direct deposit? If they don't, they might find themselves wanting when payday comes on the heels of a hurricane. Municipal CU learned that the hard way during Sandy and shared their insights. During a weather event, people might be lacking the resources they take for granted - mail stops being a priority, phone lines go down, the home computer might be done for due to electrical surges or fire or flood damage.

    But the chances are good that the members leaving their homes aren't leaving without a mobile device in-hand.

    Give members the tools they need most with your mobile offering. Check balances? That's a gimme. Transfer funds? Simple enough. Find branches and ATMs? Those tools are getting better all the time. Get copies of insurance policies, deeds, medical histories and wills? It's possible right this minute. If you're not offering these essential services, where is your operations budget going, exactly?

We hope that credit unions never have to deal with another "Hurricane Sandy". Unfortunately, we know they will. Here's hoping that they'll keep giving aid and comfort to the members that need it most. Here's hoping they'll keep looking out for each other and lending a hand in the spirit of cooperation and community building. Here's hoping that, when the crucial moment hits and it's time to be there for your members, you'll have given them all the information, attention, tools and time they need to get back on their feet. Here's hoping we can build more trust among our members and use that trust to turn them into lifelong members.

Here's hoping.

October 23, 2013

Just One Presentation Taught Me Five Lessons

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by Jimmy Marks

Recently, DigitalMailer sponsored the CU Water Cooler Symposium 2013. We went to Nashville to meet lots of cool people and see so many great presentations (I made one of my own, but I'm not bragging…there was a whole lot of great stuff on that stage).

The talk that really stuck with me? One that had nothing to do with credit unions or even with the finance industry...well, not the real finance industry, but a banker is involved.

The speaker was Tim Vandenberg, a teacher from Hesperia Unified School in Victorville, California. His talk? All about Monopoly. No, not a business monopoly - the game of Monopoly.

Tim Vandenberg - Monopoly Academy: Winning the “Game” of No Child Left Behind

Tim's talk was all about his use of Monopoly to teach math to 6th graders. His approach has turned dozens and dozens of kids from below-average learners (some of them counted on their fingers) into some of the highest-scoring students in the school, and even in his district. He's a passionate guy and his work speaks for itself. The night after his presentation, however, someone pondered aloud "What did that have to do with credit unions and finance?" The more I thought about it, the more profound Tim's talk became. I realized it wrapped up five lessons every credit union should consider.

  1. Regulation is tough, but it doesn't have to be a progress-killer - Tim developed his Monopoly-themed course as a way of challenging students and raising their math scores simultaneously. His school, like many in America, was left hurting with the implementation of "No Child Left Behind", an act that has done a lot of damage to American schools by emphasizing the importance of standardized tests instead of "real learning". Tim knew that the math scores would need to increase and that students would still need an intellectual challenge. His Monopoly/Math Camp did both.
     
  2. Mary Poppins was right - A "spoonful of sugar" helps the "medicine" go down. When I was a kid, I hated math. My teachers showed our class "School House Rock" to help us learn times tables and parts of speech. Songs and stories made it a lot easier to digest. Tim's approach has taught his students many hard-to-master math concepts, such as compound interest, principle, rent and real-estate. Gamification strikes again! And this time, to the betterment of students' test scores.
     
  3. Kids aren't dumb - Young people are often dismissed in the finance industry. Tim's students learn many important concepts quickly and can stack up against adults…one story Tim shared had a local bank teller come to him in tears, telling him his children were too fast with their math. Several of his students played exhibition matches with Monopoly Grand Champions (yes, there's a Monopoly Championship) and won against them. With proper instruction, kids can learn anything. So why aren't we doing more financial education at a younger age?
     
  4. "Never trust a smile" - Tim recounted a story in which he played the game with his students and one in particular called him out for taking advantage of a trade. "Never trust a smile," he told his student - a lesson that holds a lot of value, especially in finance. Sure, a friendly demeanor may put the consumer at ease, but if they ignore the terms they could get burned in the long run.
     
  5. Monopoly doesn't last forever - Apparently, there's a "proper way" to play Monopoly and an "improper way". The proper way takes about 90 minutes; the improper way takes all day, or even a full week. I suspect from my many years playing monopoly that I've never played "the proper way". 

That's five good lessons from one simple talk. Now, consider this - what would happen if you had attended and gleaned five good lessons from every single talk, of which there were thirteen? That would be sixty-five great lessons you could take with you, back to your credit union.

Why didn't you go again? And while we're at it, why aren't you already champing at the bit to go to CUWCS 2014 in Austin, Texas?

October 09, 2013

Stamps for $1? Sure, I'm In.

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by Ron Daly

What can you really buy for a dollar these days?

I did an informal survey (which is to say, I looked at the prices of a few things I buy from day to day), and you'd be surprised how far a dollar goes...or doesn't go.

I can buy: 

  • A can of soda, or
  • A trip down the express lanes from my home to my office, or
  • A copy of the paper, or
  • An older song on iTunes (the newer ones are more than a buck), or
  • Something from the dollar menu at McDonald's, assuming I can scrounge up a dime for the taxes.

There aren't a lot of things that cost one thin dollar. There are even fewer things that cost under a dollar. Everything's "99¢", the biggest double-whammy ever pulled in advertising. "Hey, it's pennies a day!" Yes, 99 of them.

I rarely suggest that things that are cheaper than a dollar should cost a dollar, but do you want to know one thing I think is worth a buck? A postage stamp.

Think about it. What should it cost to send a letter or a card or even a small package all the way across the country, or around the corner? If you wanted to send that stuff privately (via UPS or FedEx), it would cost more than a dollar. The Post Office does a good job of moving thousands of millions of letters and bills and papers and packages all over the country. But they're hurting and they've lost quite a bit of money in the past few years (all well documented here). They want to increase stamp prices again, to $0.49, a move that has some businesses and "concerned citizens" up in arms. "Outrageous!" they cry. "Stamps need to be affordable!" 

Don't argue that to Rick Newman. He says stamps should cost $1 each. His reasoning:

So hiking the price of a stamp to $1 seems like a straightforward way to align the agency’s costs with its expenses and save Congress the trouble of turning out a few members every now and then to listen to the Postal Service’s familiar tale of woe. The Postal Service says a mere three-cent hike in the cost of a stamp will raise $2 billion per year, so going all the way up to a buck ought to raise many billions more, even accounting for the decline in mail volume that's been occurring, plus the dropoff in sales that usually comes with higher prices. All told, those extra billions ought to more than cover the huge annual losses now expected.

If there’s concern about fixed-income seniors or other customers who might not be able to afford a dollar for every letter they mail, Congress could make postage costs tax deductible for heavy mailers below a certain income threshold, which would let the USPS off the hook and make the whole thing Congress's problem.

Postage increases fixing income troubles? Less mail? Blaming Congress? I'm in!

A dollar's not a lot of money, sadly. It doesn't buy a lot. But going back to my original question: how much would you pay for a person to hand-deliver a letter to your home? A dollar's a great value, honestly. And when it comes to serious mailers, one of two things will happen: 

  1. People who relied on the mail will start to move toward electronic payment and delivery methods, which is good for the environment and for business.
  2. The people who insist on sending paper mail (and especially those pesky junk mailers) will pay through the nose to keep it going.

What do you think? Would you pay $1 to mail a letter? Let us know about it in the comment section.

 

September 12, 2013

Introvert Media - What "Private" Social Networks Tell Us About the Future of Online Sharing

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by Ron Daly

It used to be that social media was all anyone talked about in business. "How do you use it? How can you grow an audience? Who should we hire to make it happen?"

With social media came a slew of new issues: people sharing photographs of their credit cards on Twitter (that account still exists, but the heck if I'M going to link to it); people sharing account information of every kind with newly-formed social phishing accounts; employees "over-sharing" or, in some cases, taking pictures of members' feet. And then, there's the marketing component. If there's a new medium out there, there must be some way to work in ads and direct sales/customer support, right? 

I don't know if that's true with the offspring of social media - introvert media.

Now, I know - there are nuances to what makes an introvert and an extrovert. I've been around a Myers-Briggs test before - I got a B+ (that's a joke, for any uptight psychologists reading this). But if social media is a more ideal environment for extroverts (lots of sharing, big crowds a must, plenty of feedback) then this new wave of private, shut-off social networks has got to be a big blessing for introverts (small crowds, not a lot of hubbub, not "open").

Take Snapchat, for instance. If you've never come across Snapchat before, ask your local teenager about it - they're likely to have it on their smartphone and use it to send pictures of God-knows-what to their friends. The idea behind Snapchat is pretty simple - take a picture, share with a friend, and a few seconds after they open it, the picture is deleted from their phone and from yours. Snapchat's programmers swear they can't see the pictures and that any attempt to screen-grab shared pictures alerts the photographer that the recipient tried to save the image. The entire point of Snapchat, according to their website, is to "share a moment". Users take pictures, send them to other users, and the pictures vanish. All that remains - at least according to Snapchat's privacy policy - is the memory.

Celly, a service that sends out mass text messages to registered users and is entirely closed off to advertisers and outsiders, is a favorite of plenty of people who are looking to stay in touch...from school systems to small businesses to protest groups. Similar functionality, but built for very small groups with phone access. The app now processes 550 million texts every month to members in 20,000 different groups. It's got nothing on Twitter's size...but it's not supposed to.

Want a better way to talk to your neighbors without having to...you know, actually talk to them? Nextdoor is Facebook for your block association. Users have to register their home addresses and verify they actually live in the community. It's a social network that's only a few "yards" wide.

I went poking around, trying to find an introvert network for people who want to better manage their finances. But let's face it, if you're managing your household's finances, you only want a few people involved in the discussion. Where does it start? What does a network that facilitates private, productive discussions about money look like? Who gets an invite? 

We've wrestled with this a lot in the creation and further development of My Virtual StrongBox. Forget about storage services that sit on your desktop and gobble up your many files and documents for sharing. My Virtual StrongBox is just for you and keeps your information safe and sound behind your online banking. Sure, you can share things with people (with a link that expires after a certain time/number of clicks), and they can send documents to your box if you need them to. But it's not meant to be a catchall - it's meant to be a private place. With all the movement toward introvert media, we see a growing need (as does Barclays, by the way) to present options that keep communications - and communicators - private.

In a world that's getting used to sharing everything, the real show-stoppers will be those that can keep a secret.

Are you getting into "Introvert Media"? Tell us about it in the comments.

August 22, 2013

Have you ever spent $1,000 on candy?

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by Jimmy Marks

[EDITOR'S NOTE -- Ron's off this week so we're throwing it over to Jimmy who's got a few things to say about Candy Crush Saga and the future of mobile games - and mobile money.]

I teased my wife mercilessly. I told her she was just wasting her time. I told her she looked like a crazy person, freaking out over a "game over" the way five-year-olds do when they're all out of Mario's.

She didn't hear a word of it. She was too busy playing Candy Crush Saga, a game where you line up different colored candies and they blow up and you line up other candies and...well, you're basically pattern-picking and trying to empty out rows and rows of brightly-colored candy. I thought it was juvenile. I thought it was stupid. 

Then, I played it. And WOW, is it ever fun

The game struck a nerve with me recently, though, when I started taking note of how often you're encouraged to "buy up". Extra lives are dangled in front of you when you've hit zero and you can always purchase more bonuses that will make the candy exploding a lot easier to manage. I'll admit it - I've dropped $0.99 on a five-pack of lives (to my wife, I offer my most heartfelt apologies). There are times when I can be reasonable and just put the game away until all my lives are replenished and I can play again. And then, there are times when I'm just too human and I cave.

I drew the line yesterday when, after reaching my newest level, I was told I had to complete three side-quests to keep playing. I could do this one of three ways: 

  1. Get on Facebook and bug my friends about it (more on that later...)
  2. Buy my way over to the next level for $1
  3. Play quests. You have to beat three small, short levels in order to move forward. You can only play one level in a 24-hour period. WHAT?!(more on THAT later, too...)

3r01rw

(Above: How I feel when I run out lives in Candy Crush.)

Continue reading "Have you ever spent $1,000 on candy?" »

August 07, 2013

Why didn't WE think of that?

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by Ron Daly 

What would you do if you found out your parents (or grandparents) had given away five thousand dollars to a fake charity scam?

Would you be angry? Sure, I bet you would. You'd be angry at the fake charity. These people play with elderly people's sympathies and their sense of compassion. It's just horrible. Makes me angry thinking about it...

You might even tend to be a little disappointed at your older-folks for falling for it, even though that's blaming the victim. They only want to help people and find time to chat with a friendly face or a warm voice on the other end of the phone. You gotta give them a break.

Would you be mad at the bank or credit union that let the charges go through? Well, they don't have any way of knowing which charges are legitimate. Right? 

Thanks to a Gen-Y wunderkind, these crummy charges can be avoided. 

Kai Stinchcombe, a "serial entrepeneur" who's well under 40, create True Link, a prepaid card that seniors can use in conjunction with a checking account or pension fund that alerts close family that charges are being made and can allow those charges to be preempted via text message alert. That way, a group of weirdos pretending to be the Lion's Club charity drive can't make off with grandma's life savings. Stories like this one don't have to happen anymore to elderly folks who may be suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's, or are just a bit too trusting.

It's a genius idea. It will likely prevent hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even millions, from being slipped out of the hands of trusting senior citizens. Heck, with just a bit of tweaking, this could be the solution for "grey charges" - you'd be the person authorizing every withdrawal. 

Here's my question: Why didn't WE think of that?!

We have the technology to alert people directly when a transaction happens. We know that elder abuse and fraud happen every day. We know that there are concerned sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, grandkids and great-grandkids that want their grandparents to be okay and retain their independence. We know all of that.

So why did it take an outsider to get us here?

And what is the deal with this whole "prepaid card" thing? Are our cards not good enough? Yeah, a $20 annual fee for the ability to keep your parents and grandparents from selling their lives away is a meager sum, when you think about it. But couldn't we be there with a free card? Or a program that ties into a checking account that elderly person might already have, avoiding any do-si-do between card provider and source? 

When I hear people talk about "innovation", I wonder how many people are just staring at a poster on the wall of a guy holding a lightbulb. Seems to me innovation is when you realize people need something and the thing you give them to fill that need is not what they expected. People needed a faster way to pay without using credit so we made debit cards. People wanted to manage their finances more closely so we created online banking and bill pay. People needed to do business on the go so we got the smart phone. All the stuff we count on to make life easy once seemed ridiculous, just "Da Vinci sketches" of weird helicopters that would never prove useful. And now, we have it. 

As you read this, someone's working on the next iteration of the True Link card. Does it also include check fraud prevention and free checkbooks? Does it include learning materials for people with elderly parents, alerting them to scams that most seniors with the card are encountering? Does it share declined purchases in a database, identifying trends? Does it call the cops on those scammers and put them out of comission for good?

Why don't you think on that?

Do you know of any cards or programs that exist specifically for seniors in the credit union world? Let us hear about them in the comments section.