A Bit of Unpleasantness

Do privacy violations at your CU leave members feeling trapped?

May 21, 2012

I have a mouse visiting the area below my kitchen sink.

Standing in the checkout line after acquiring traps at the hardware store, the gum-popping young lad manning the till loudly announces, “So, ya got mice, eh?”

Heads turn as shoppers seek to identify the poor unfortunate riddled with vermin and likely destined for Black Death quarantine. I sigh and admit, “Ah yes, a bit of unpleasantness at my house, I’m afraid.”

I had the condolences and advice of the masses. Checkout Guy wished me a good afternoon.

Lora Kloth is a research librarian at CUNA.
Lora Bray is research librarian at CUNA

I considered the interaction upon exit.

Had my privacy been invaded? Suddenly, strangers knew I had a problem, how I hoped to solve it, and that I was not happy about the unfolding events, and they chose to provide commentary.

Here “invasion of privacy” wasn’t significant. But what about conversations overheard in your credit union’s teller line? Confidentiality is critical to protect your members and create an atmosphere of trust.

Are practices in place to guarantee the security of member discussions? Is the question, “May I have your account number, please?” and the ensuing response ever overheard? Can people in the lobby hear transactions as they occur over intercoms in the drive through area?

We often think security breaches are the result of online hackers, theft, and other unscrupulous activity. But it’s important to recognize conversations overheard during the normal course of business also have potential for security problems and violation of member trust.

Let’s not be mousy as we look at this week’s research findings!


Speaking of security matters, see the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report, “Most Taxpayers Whose Identities Have Been Stolen To Commit Refund Fraud Do Not Receive Quality Customer Service.” 

The Federal Trade Commission tells us identity theft was the No. 1 one complaint in 2011, and the most prevalent type of identity theft is from government documents/benefits fraud. And, the agency says, resolution doesn’t come easy: “Identity theft cases are not worked timely. Communications between identity theft victims and the IRS were limited and confusing, and victims were asked multiple times to substantiate their identity.”

Another trust violation is unearthed in “Predatory Credit Card Lending: Unsafe, Unsound for Consumers and Lenders,” by the Center for Responsible Lending.

The report identifies practices the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 didn’t eliminate but are potentially unfair, deceptive, and overly aggressive. Bank supervisors should further scrutinize practices such as:

* Penalty interest rates imposed by a hair-trigger—a single, minor infraction such as being late on a payment by a single day or by what’s known as “universal default”—paying another company late;

* Manipulation of variable rates using a “pick-a-rate” practice, where an issuer tied interest rates to an index but picked a date on which changes in the index caused the biggest increase; and

* Having minimum finance charges of as much as $2 even if a consumer owes only a penny of interest that month.

The report finds that “high-cost penalty fees and interest rates didn’t mitigate risk…but instead were the risk that pushed consumers into hardship and default.”

Do findings from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Report, “The SAR Activity Review—By the Numbers”concur? “Though having experienced decreases in 2009 and 2010, the number of reports indicating consumer loan fraud (in whole or in part) significantly rose in 2011, up 127% from the prior year.”

This compelling, statistic-laden study will enlighten you on all types of suspicious activity reports.

Consider the levels of trust and confidence you inspire in your members with regard to confidentiality and security, and what you might do to reinforce those vital elements of providing excellent member service. Do members feel respected? Are you quiet as a mouse?

Trappings in small business

According to Gallup, “One-third of U.S. Small-business Owners Feel Debt Burden.”  Bankers indicate that many qualified small business borrowers don’t want loans at this time, perhaps because “36% of small-business owners who have borrowed in the past are still uncomfortable with their debt… and many small businesses are finding it difficult to reduce their debt.”

Also, “New Business Startups Declined in 2011, Annual Kauffman Study Shows.”  Is lack of money a reason why?

“Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the wake of the Great Recession, although the rate of new business creation dipped during 2011 and startup founders remained more likely to fly solo than employ others.”

How are entrepreneurs faring in your neighborhood? Can you provide financing or are small businesses tapped out?

Career ambitions

Oh, rats: “One in Three Young U.S. Workers Are Underemployed,” says Gallup.

“Today’s slow economic growth is a disaster for those unemployed and underemployed as they look for jobs when so few new jobs are being created…Nearly one in three young adults in the workforce are not now able to gain full-time job experience. This not only hurts them temporarily, but deprives them of the experience they need to get a better job in the future.”

Meanwhile, note “A Gender Reversal On Career Aspirations: Young Women Now Top Young Men in Valuing a High-Paying Career” proclaims Pew Research Center.

Pew reports that 66% of women age 18 to 34 rank career “high on their list of priorities, compared with 59% of young men.” Further, women “now surpass men in both college enrollment and completion.”

Despite these advantages, however, women continue to earn less than their male counterparts, and currently take home about 80% of what men make on the job.

The good news is, we do not feel trapped as “American’s Optimism About Their Financial Future Recovers,” Gallup reports. “Americans optimistically and consistently say their financial situations will improve in the year ahead rather than say they will deteriorate.”

However, “Americans in general tend to be more positive when asked to opine about personal or local situations than they are when asked about national conditions.”

Are your members optimistic? If so, what can you do to encourage them with loans or the acquisition of investments?

If they’re pessimistic, what services might you provide to help them meet their financial goals? Do their sentiments affect your business offerings?

I still haven’t caught my mouse. I am experiencing some problems with premature trap springing. Perhaps I need to try another product.

You know what they say, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

Are you ready to spring into action?

LORA BRAY is research librarian in CUNA's business-to-business publishing department.