What Travel Apps Are On Your Phone?


By Robert McGarvey

A new Oracle report came as a wake-up call for me.  Said Oracle: we are using a lot of travel apps. Quite happily.

At first I snorted at this and then I recognized that, increasingly, I personally am making considerable use of apps – just not travel apps so much.

Should I do a rethink?

I do use Headspace and Mondly (language learning), pretty much daily on my Pixel phone. Google’s Fit is my daily companion as it tracks my walking and meditation. I use SeatJunky often (hunting for free seats at cultural events).  Of course I use Facebook on my phone, also a couple of banking apps and PayPal. The list could go on. But the point is just that, definitely, I make growing use of phone apps.

Five years ago I used pretty much no apps with any regularity but apps have crept into my life.

But not travel apps so much.

The Oracle report tells me to rethink that.  

According to Oracle, “Branded restaurant and hotel apps are very popular; almost a quarter of global consumers have at least one hotel or restaurant app on their mobile devices.” The exact number of consumers who use the travel apps, per Oracle, is 23%.

Those who use them use them often, too. Said Oracle: “Branded restaurant and hotel apps are being used weekly; 70% of the hotel/ restaurant branded app users say they use those apps at least once a week.”

For point of comparison, we use mobile banking apps more – but travel apps are surprising strong.  Here is data from a Federal Reserve study: “The Fed survey found that 43 percent of all mobile phone users with bank accounts had used mobile banking in the previous 12 months, up from 22 percent in the agency’s 2011 survey. Among mobile banking users with smartphones (cell phones with internet connectivity), 53 percent with bank accounts used mobile banking in the previous 12 months.”

As far as travel apps go, once we use one, we seem open to using more.  Oracle added: “Once consumers engage with branded apps, they’re open to using several; two thirds of the consumers using hotel or restaurant apps have at least three of them on their devices.”

A last bit from Oracle: “Branded apps are more popular than third party ordering apps – only 20% of global consumers have an app for a third party aggregator.”

It’s the last in fact that surprises me. I do have, and have used, HotelTonight, OpenTable, HipMunk, and a few others.

As for branded apps, I have on my phone Uber (used a lot), United, American Airlines, Delta, My TSA, and, nope, not a single hotel branded app.  I also have no restaurant apps. And I’ve never used the airline apps.

Maybe it’s my age.  Said Oracle: “Only 9% of consumers aged 55+ have a restaurant or hotel app on their mobiles, compared to 31% of millennials.”

I’m in sync with this however: “20% of global consumers have at least one app for a food delivery service on their devices.”  In my case it’s Ubereats, also Amazon Prime Now (which I have used on several occasions). Which puts me in line with this Oracle finding: “28% of global consumers said that they have paid for food and drink from an app on their mobile devices at least once.”

It worked fine for me, by the way.  I just don’t order much takeout food and so haven’t had a need for the apps anyway.

You are sitting out hospitality apps? Oracle said a lot of us do.  “43% of global consumers say that they do not use hospitality apps.” This also is age influenced.  “70% of the 55+ generation do not use apps in any way, compared to just 26% of millennials,” according to Oracle.

Tell you the truth, however, I am now downloading more travel apps and will begin using them because I am getting very accustomed to using apps (like Headspace) every day.

That’s the reality of mobile: the more we use it, the more we use it and, suddenly, we see the convenience of having what amounts to a mini computer in our pocket.

Then too, the power and ease of use of all mobile apps is much higher than it was when the iPhone launched 11 years ago (or the apps we had on our Palm Pilots before then).  

My advice: download three or four travel apps and, probably, you’ll begin to find utility and, no, I’m still not downloading any hotel apps – and year ago research from business intelligence firm L2 dismissed the lot as junk.  As for airlines, here’s a roundup of the best.  And here’s PCMag’s roundup of the best in all categories.

Happy downloading.



How to Avoid Merging Into Oblivion: Three Steps to Save Your Credit Union


By Robert McGarvey


For Cu2.0


Should you applaud, cry, or scream?

That’s my question as I read a Credit Union Times story headlined “NCUA Approves 14 Mergers in June”  — “Credit union consolidations for the first half of the year decline from last year.”

So far this year NCUA has approved 87 mergers which, CUTimes pointed out, is down from the 95 it had approved at this point last year.

Say 120 credit unions merge out of existence this year.  Where will that leave the credit union count?

According to CUNA in March there were 5644 credit unions.  That’s down from 6680 five years ago.

Do the math. In 2028, there probably will be under 4500 credit unions. Maybe fewer than 4000.

That kind of musing recently led marketer Bo McDonald to post a column at CUInsight headlined “The last credit union in America is….”  

He recalled Blockbuster – once ubiquitous in America, now largely forgotten. Are credit unions headed that way, he asked.

Good question.

It doesn’t have to end there but if credit unions don’t embrace the bleakness of their futures, the industry may well wind up as a footnote in business history books.

Big banks keep getting bigger. Chase, Wells Fargo, Cit, Bank of America are growing. They  long ago began measuring their bulk in trillions of dollars

And community banks and credit unions keep faltering. Add all credit union assets together and they about equal the holdings of one big bank.  Just one.

A sliver of good news in the CUNA data is that credit union assets and membership both are up.  

But you have to be worried about the question of when do credit unions become statistically unimportant.

And when does NCUA seem as needed as, say, an agency to regulate farriers and another to oversee typewriters.

It’s not that bad? Not yet. But the trends are plain.

There is a path to a brighter tomorrow. Technology, in its essence, is a great leveler. Smart, hungry credit unions can and are riding the digital transformation rails and are building institutions that will thrive for years to come.  Digital transformation has emerged as a must do for credit unions that want to survive and thrive.

Know that a healthy future is digital and that gets you moving in the right direction.

And then there is still more that needs doing.  Such as? Just three steps will help credit unions move into that brighter future and, you bet, this is all about rocking the boat. But when the boat is sinking, what does a little rocking matter?

Here are your three to-do’s:

Make big data your life blood.  Increasingly, data is the plasma that produces business health and credit unions have the ability to create big data insights that will rival what Chase and Citi produce. Communal data lakes are within reach and very probably will be up and running in 2019.

No, a credit union does not have enough data on its own – but when 1000 join together to share data, they collectively have what they need.

Make your mobile world class. Increasingly, too, mobile is the contact point that will matter to members (definitely not branches!) – but smart credit unions recognize that reality and at least some are busy developing their own mobile apps.

That’s a tough order for smaller credit unions – really any institution below $500 million in assets, which is around 90% of credit unions.  My advice to those institutions is to lean on your vendors, hard, and demand a mobile app that is as good as Chase’s and also Venmo and if they can’t produce, find a vendor who can.

Make your core system work for you, not the other way around. It’s ridiculous: many credit unions let their core systems, often 20+ years old, set their technology limits.  The limitations of their cores shape what online banking provider they will use, what mobile provider, often what payments processor.

That has to stop.  It makes as much sense as creating a shrine for an old Burroughs adding machine and saying daily prayers to it.

Start now to lessen the dominance of the core in your institution’s technology decisionmaking and, sure, I know that won’t be easy.

But going out of business isn’t easy either.

Think on it.


The Coming Payments Revolution in Travel


By Robert McGarvey


It’s about time: travel providers, at least the big ones, now are edging into an embrace of the payments revolution that in the past half dozen years have given us contactless payments, also mobile payments such as Apple Pay and Google Pay, and also EMV cards.

Reports Pymnts in a recently published report “Travel Payments Study:” “More than two decades after PayPal was founded, and four years since the launch of Apple Pay, the travel industry is taking its first cautious steps into its own payments revolution.”

The staggering reality is that travel has been under assault by hackers for at least a decade – it numbers among the most attacked verticals in the Verizon Data Breach Report.  Just converting to EMV at gift shops, bars and restaurants at hotels would put a serious crimp in hacker styles, but hoteliers are among the slowest to move into the new technologies.

Taking Apple Pay at check in would also be a boon to guest data security.

A peculiar irony is that credit card data insecurities may be a reason why travel providers have not innovated. Said Pymnts: “At 78 percent, consumer data security was, by far, the most-cited inhibitor to payments innovation. Following that was credit card data security imperatives, at 74 percent, which were listed as either ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ inhibiting. Incurred fraud losses came third, cited by 64 percent of respondents.”

Except now Pymnts reports that changes are coming.

It’s not your imagination that travel providers have been notorious laggards. Says Pymnts: “PYMNTS’ most recent research revealed that just 15 percent of all travel companies have attempted new payments innovations over the last three years, let alone those that succeeded in implementing them.”

Just 15%.  Wow.  This has been a span of feverish innovation, at least when viewed from the stodgy perspective of bankers.  And travel has sat it out.

Operating internationally and a broad industry dependence on third party payments processing services are cited among the reasons for delays in adoption of payments innovations.

Guests, too, have not insisted on innovations. Consider: most of us still, docilely, hand over a credit card in a restaurant, the server vanishes, and a few minutes later a receipt comes at us.  I cannot remember the last time I saw that at a restaurant in Europe, where servers – for at least 15 years in my recollection – have been equipped with miniature credit card processing gadgets that also print out a receipt, all in your plain view.

You just have to wince when you hand over a credit card at a hotel because the data just has been so insecure.  But a big driver for payments innovation – maybe the biggest – has been enhanced security.

And still travel providers stayed on the sidelines.

That’s changing. According to Pymnts, about 80% of travel providers plan payments innovations in the next three years.

14% say they plan to roll out “a lot” of innovations.

Just 5% say they have nothing in the hopper.

What’s prompting travel providers to invest in payment innovations? 91% pointed to customer suggestions as a prod – meaning our grumbles have been heard. 83% also said they had lost customers because they hadn’t innovated.

Reported Pymnts: “The demand for new payment methods isn’t being driven by companies looking to cut costs or boost efficacy, though, but by consumers in search of a more convenient and compelling payment experience.”

Travel providers also expect that although innovations have price tags, they may wind up actually saving money. Reported Pymnts: “We asked respondents whether they believed the financial gains to be had from payments innovations would outweigh the costs, and an impressive 96 percent of the sample had a positive outlook. These companies believe that the revenue gained would outweigh its costs, that innovation would have no effect on costs or that it would actually decrease costs.”

Large companies are much more optimistic about cost reductions than are small – and travel remains a business where there are many small players: travel agents, independent hotels, independent restaurants, local destination marketing companies, etc.  

Big players also see payments innovations as a way to drive down their payments processing costs – and probably they are right.

Should we in fact be optimistic that payments innovations are in fact coming – and that we’ll see more travel providers accepting Apple Pay et. al., installing EMV card readers, and – dare we hope – equipping servers in restaurants with portable reader/printers?

Just maybe we can expect to see all this. Said Pymnts: “One thing is clear, though: Travel companies must invest in improving their payments structures if they want to maintain a competitive edge.”

My advice: grumble about the absence of current payments technology when checking in, when paying in a bar, when paying in a restaurant.  Our grumbles do matter – the research underlines – so keep it up. And just maybe more travel providers will roll out contemporary payments tools.


Member Engagement: The Big, New Battleground

By Robert McGarvey

For CU2.0

Research out of Pymnts drives home two points: financial institutions, suddenly, are attempting to up their game in consumer engagement – and the better institutions are the ones that are all over this.

Said Pymnts: “Our analysis shows CE is a growing focus for FIs, particularly the top performing innovators in our study. Moreover, those banks that focus on a customer experience and consumer engagement (CXE) strategy are tuned into customer needs and adoption, and
they roll out innovations they say are more successful, too.”

The FIs that are good at this are getting better. The ones that aren’t, aren’t.

That has to be terrifying for the institutions that are laggards – and, sadly, most credit unions (and banks too) fall in the laggard group.  

But more now are trying to do this better, reported Pymnts: “Just 35 percent of [financial institutions] reported having focused on CE during the past three years, while 43 percent said they intended to focus on CE in the following three.”

Word of firm advice: solidly plant your credit union in the CE camp. That’s how to thrive.

Exactly what is meant by consumer engagement?  Pymnts explained: “Consumer engagement in the digital age refers to the combination of consumer experience, digital technology and data analytics.”  The researchers added: “These areas proved to be of particular importance to credit unions and community banks.”

Pymnts continued: “It is also critical to note that top performing FIs are far more likely to report an intent to focus on consumer engagement than their peers. In fact, 80 percent of Top Performers say they will focus on CE initiatives over the next three years, nearly twice the percentage of all FIs as a group (43 percent).”

Understand, the money center banks are focused on digital technology, data analytics, and consumer experience.  Most credit unions are playing catch up. But play they must because there is every indication that, increasingly, members will be won and lost in large part due to their member experience of the credit union.

Think about just one battleground: the mobile banking app. Innovation is continuous at a Chase, or a USAA. Is it at your credit union?  Probably not. Most credit unions are beholden to third party vendors and speed of updates has not been how they have distinguished themselves.

Consider the fast rising consumer demand for p2p inside their mobile banking app. Not many credit unions offer it.  But the big banks are putting Zelle in their mobile apps – they are already there before a majority of consumers know they want the capability but that majority is definitely heading our way. What are you doing to be ready?

Pymnts also expects higher focus by leading FIs on digital wallets as well as loyalty and rewards initiatives. A hope of these initiatives: more mindshare of consumers and more touchpoints.  What credit unions want – and need – are well used accounts and that’s the intended payoff of consumer experience campaigns.

An engaged consumer is a more active consumer.

A lot of next wave consumer engagement will be technology driven.  Many credit union executives think member engagement and immediately think of a smiling teller and a warm voice on the phone.  But Pymnts rocks that paradigm by singling out Bank of America’s machine service rep Erica as a powerful innovation in engagement.  Said Pymnts: “When it comes to the changing nature of customer service, few developments in the financial sector offer quite as illustrative a demonstration as the runaway success of Bank of America’s digital assistant, Erica.”

In its first three months, Erica grabbed one million users. For many of us, said Pymnts, digital assistants now are the “preferred” contact channel with an FI.

It wouldn’t surprise me if many of us have many more contacts with a digital assistant than with a human, in part because the digital assistant is always available and also because – psychologically – we don’t think we are demanding too much attention when we pepper Erica, or Alexa, with questions.  

Pymnts said that the digital components figures in more ways in our customer experience.  It elaborated: “There is a direct correlation between innovative payments technology, a differentiating customer experience and developing newer, more efficient payment features that can help boost CE.”

Consumers like mobile banking and they really like mobile remote deposit capture.

What additional technology do you offer that you know your members love? “I can’t think of any”  is not a good answer.

Accept this reality: technology will shape the looming customer engagement wars and the credit unions that are racing to stay ahead technologically are very probably the ones that will emerge as winners.  Today’s technology will not keep consumers engaged tomorrow. Race to stay in the chase.

The Menace That Is Airport WiFi


By Robert McGarvey


Stop right there if you are reading this on airport WiFi. It just cannot be trusted.

That is the frightening take away from a report via data security company Coronet that looked at the security of the public wifi at the nation’s 45 busiest airports. The verdict is unsettling: “For attackers, it is infinitely easier to access and exploit data from devices connected to Wi-Fi in an airport than it is to do so within the confines of a wellprotected office. In fact, the lax cybersecurity posture at most airports has created an environment in which adversaries can utilize insecure public Wi-Fi as the attack vector to introduce a plethora of advanced network vulnerabilities, such as captive portals (AKA Wireless phishing), Evil Twins, ARP poisoning, VPN Gaps, Honeypots and compromised routers.”

Don’t know what all that geek talk means? Here’s a translation: your data is toast and criminals are already busy spreading jam and butter on it as they chow down.

Explained Coronet: “business travelers connected to risky airport networks unintentionally share important information about their cloud-based-apps with adversaries. Such compromise can trickle down through entire organizations, leading to operational disruption, financial losses and even reputational harm, among other damages.”

How did we get in this situation?  

Good question but, first, know that risks do vary by airports, according to Coronet. Some do a much better job of protecting their wifi than do others. Coronet came up with a complex metric to measure and weigh risks at airports and it determined that some airport wifi is just too risky to use.

What goes wrong with some airport wifi is that it is a petri dish for malware and another, huge issue is that some networks just aren’t good about hunting for and blotting out fake networks that masquerade as real.

Understand: a criminal with a few hundred dollars worth of easily purchased gear that will fit in a briefcase can erect a bogus network and slap on it a name that seems legit, maybe something like FreeAirportWifi.  Use that network and, very probably, a criminal is logging your every keystroke – into your company server, your bank account, your email, and the list goes on.

But criminals have been inventive in coming up with novel attacks via airport wifi.  Lock one door and they already have opened another. At least at many airport wifis.

What wifis must we avoid? Coronet identified seven that it believes are very high risk.

The nation’s worst? San Diego International (SAN) which notched a threat index score of 10.  (Coronet believes scores of 6.5 and higher should be avoided.)

Next worst: John Wayne (SNA) at 8.7.

Followed by Hobby (HOU), 7.5; Southwest Florida (RSW), 7.1; Newark (EWR), 7.1; Dallas Love Field (DAL), 6.8; and Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX), 6.5.

Color me very aggravated because the two airports I have used the most in recent years are PHX and EWR.

Some airports do a good job with their wifi. The safest airport, per Coronet, is Midway in Chicago at 4.5.

But really just don’t trust airport wifi. Not in the US, not overseas.

How can you stay safe and still use it?  My advice has been and remains to avoid free airport wifi. Just don’t use it.  What I do is create a hotspot with my cellphone and connect through it. (I have had no issues despite travel through EWR and PHX.)

Many travelers tell me they frequently use airline club wifi with no issues. Personally I have often used Amex’s Centurion wifi, again with no issues.

Some also use VPN – and if you are going to use free airport wifi, even at the airports identified as safer, do use VPN or the cloud-based secure browser Silo via Authentic8 which confines risks to its servers, not your company’s, not even your laptop.  Which is better? That’s your call but, personally, I am liking Silo because I don’t see a speed hit as I have with VPN.

Others have told me they use fee-based hotspot network Boingo, often in connection with a free plan via American Express.  

Bottomline: just as smart travelers eschew hotel wifi as too risky, the time is now to cold shoulder free public airport wifi. The risks simply will multiply and there is no indication that airport authorities have any plans to seriously attack the criminals who now are hunting for victims on airport wifis around the country.


When the Credit Union “Human Advantage” Adds Up to Zilch


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


Ask credit union senior executives how they plan to beat banks and – I have heard this everytime I have asked – they say “our people.”

They elaborate that their people are good, kind, caring credit union people, from the community, and this will be the deciding weaponry in the upcoming wars.


There are so many problems with this thinking it is hard to know where to start.

And I am a person who in fact believes that many credit union people in fact are good, kind, caring.  

That’s not the problem.

The problem is a two headed monster that is set to devour that credit union narrative.

Increasingly, the busiest branch is the online website and the next busiest is the mobile app.  Personally I have never been in a branch of my chief credit union (whose nearest branch now is on the other side of the country from me). I have called maybe twice in the last five years.

Are they nice people? I guess. I really haven’t had much to do with many of them. The CEO, whom I know, is and as long as he responds to my emails (which have never been about personal account issues) he’s a good guy in my book.

But I like the mobile app, I like the online banking, and they introduce new features fast enough to keep me from getting frustrated (and, yeah, I have a Chase account too and Chase keeps me in the fast lane).

Here’s a factoid from the latest Digital Banking Tracker via Pymnts: “Mobile banking apps are more popular than ever, with recent research indicating they have become one of the three most used app categories in America as of 2018.”

According to the Fed, in 2017 about half of US adults with a smartphone had used it to access banking.  

The digital access numbers are just going to explode in the near future.

The more digital we become, the less human interactions matter.

And then the second shoe drops.  According to that same Pymnts publication: “Bank of America, just two months after its release, is celebrating the one-millionth user of Erica, its app based, artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled chatbot. Erica is designed to meld AI, predictive analytics and natural language to serve as a virtual financial assistant.”

AI is going vertical, it is changing how we interact with so many elements of our lives.

AI also is becoming human plus.

In a talk at the recent WOCCU conference in Singapore, keynoter Shivvy Jervis warned that digital technologies – think Erica, Amazon’s Alexa, etc. – are becoming “more human.”

You bet.

She added: “Even as we are becoming more digital, I believe digital technologies are becoming more human.”

And we are embracing them.

Hotels for instance are racing to equip rooms with Alexa to answer our questions (when does the restaurant open for breakfast?) and to perform simple chores such as raising the room temperature and turning off the desk lamp.  We are becoming accustomed to dealing with these digital intermediaries – I have three Alexa’s in my house plus a Google Home device – and we like them.

Why should I call a human to find out if a check cleared when I can ask Alexa? Many, many credit unions now are rushing to go live in Alexa and what this adds up to is a lessening of the importance of the human face of the credit union.

Nobody is suggesting that humans aren’t important to credit unions and their members. Of course they are, and that is why I urge credit unions to invest in retraining branch employees to move from transaction processing to financial consultants.

People can – and should – be a credit union assets because members will still come into the branch and call into the call center.  It’s just that fewer and fewer of us will depend upon those channels as primary avenues for financial services.

That means the smart credit unions – the ones that will survive – are investing in their digital transformation.  That is the future of financial services, that is where the wars will be won.  Take a deep dive into big data, into mobile banking, and – absolutely – into AI tools such as Alexa and more.  

A decade from now it will be considered absolutely normal to talk with a computer about one’s finances. You need to be there sooner.

And you need to accept that tomorrow’s battles won’t be won just because you have “the best people.” Which you may have.  But a lot more – mainly digital – will figure into choosing winners and losers and you need to be in the thick of that game to remain a competitor.

Be there.


The Homeless Are Coming! Cancel That Meeting! — UPDATED



By Robert McGarvey


Bar the doors: the homeless are coming and they will mess with your next business trip, definitely also your next convention.

Who wants to share a sidewalk with a stinky, dirty bum?

That’s a takeaway from recent news, out of San Francisco, that a major medical association cancelled a meeting over the city’s homeless population (estimated at 7500, in a city with a population of 870,000).  

“It’s the first time that we have had an out-and-out cancellation over the issue, and this is a group that has been coming here every three or four years since the 1980s,” Joe D’Alessandro, president and CEO of S.F. Travel, the city’s convention bureau, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Chronicle story continued: “The doctors group told the San Francisco delegation that while they loved the city, postconvention surveys showed their members were afraid to walk amid the open drug use, threatening behavior and mental illness that are common on the streets.”

There are factual errors in this – more below – but, first, let’s accept a reality: cities have increasing homeless populations.  I live in Phoenix – where the homeless count is estimated at 5605 across Maricopa County but most are in Phoenix, typically downtown, because many parts of the county give them the boot. I live in downtown and every day I talk with homeless people.  This week I am working at a church that will feed 150 in a “heat respite” day, on a day where the temperature will go above 110.

Los Angeles, where the medical group is believed to be scheduling its meeting, has a homeless population of 57,794.  They are especially numerous downtown and in Venice Beach.  

New York City has a big homeless population. So does Philadelphia.  So does Boston.

Washington DC, the nation’s capital, has 6904 homeless.

I can’t think of a big city that doesn’t have lots of visible homeless.

As a nation we are failing to provide safety nets to many and one result is a burgeoning homeless population.

Here’s advice: if a group insists on meeting sans homeless, cross off every city of any size. Go to a resort.  Or the Las Vegas Strip. (Las Vegas has an estimated 6490 homeless but I have never seen one on the Strip.  If they are there they are wearing shorts, a too tight top, and sunglasses so they fit in.)

Hawaii, by the way, has a substantial homeless population. Don’t think paradise offers a safe harbor.

Just about every expert agrees that, nationally, the homeless population is climbing upwards.

Should groups flee the grunge – or should they come to see and smell what life is like for the have-nots?  That’s the choice of every group. It’s not for me to dictate.

But, personally, every day that I walk among the homeless I learn and, particularly, I learn that small acts of human kindness make a lot of difference to those who have basically nothing. I am put in mind of this from the Bible: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40, 45, NIV).

Back to the alleged meeting cancellation in San Francisco. Well, it turns out it just ain’t so. Here is more from D’Alessandro in a different publication: “For clarification, they didn’t actually pull or cancel the convention. We were just one of their finalist cities, and they chose to go somewhere else. And they actually have two upcoming years that they’re already booked in San Francisco. The group itself does not want to release their name, so I want to respect that. But when they gave us their reasons for choosing another city, their main issues were cost, that it was expensive in San Francisco, and also they said that the condition of the streets was not what they had hoped to see.” (Emphasis added.)

Oh my. Literally dozens of stories ran, in publications around the country, that San Francisco’s homeless population had cost it a major medical meeting and it is not so. Not even a little.  There never was a confirmed meeting to cancel.  Never.

I have talked with many meeting planners over the past 20 years.  They have also told me they crossed off cities as possible locations because of crime (Manhattan in the 1980s, for instance).  Worries about terrorism are a related concern that can trigger an unwillingness to meet. Occasionally it’s been lack of airline lift. But the most common reason a city gets eliminated usually has been money.  When hotel room prices, on average, cross a line, that spells trouble for the city in attracting meetings. Manhattan has been a case in point for years.

San Francisco has now crossed the line. A few years ago Bloomberg ran a story headlined “San Francisco Hotels Are the World’s Priciest.”

Update: Reader Chris McGinnis (in comments) pointed out that the Bloomberg story got a lot of this wrong.

Nonetheless, San Francisco continues to rank among the most expensive cities for hotels (even if not the most expensive) and this is a problem for many meeting planners. Which is what D’Alesandro said in that Travel Weekly follow up interview.  

If San Francisco wants more big meetings it has to lower hotel costs. That’s the simple answer.

Solving the homelessness epidemic, well, that’s not simple.  But the homeless aren’t costing Baghdad by the Bay meetings.  They just aren’t.

Hotel Data Breaches and You: Welcome to Anxiety


By Robert McGarvey


The 2018 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report has terrifying news for hotel guests.  

For some years I have written about how porous hotel data and credit card security are.  Loyalty programs, hotel restaurants, and more are under continuing assault by cyber criminals.  I have urged people not to use hotel wifi and not to use debit cards at hotels (they have poorer protection under federal law than do credit cards).  It’s a jungle out there and, in hotels, we travelers are the gazelles.

We need to really toughen our defenses – more on that below.

Start first with just how treacherous hotels are for us. A chilling PDF of info about hotel data breaches – data culled from the Verizon report – is available via HotelNewsNow.  Download it.

It makes for disturbing reading.

There should be no surprises here.  Hotels attract guests with money – definitionally.  There’s no real point in hacking into a Skid Row flophouse.  A 4 star hotel is a different matter.

Per Verizon, hotels are much more likely than most businesses to be a target. As Willy Sutton is said to have exclaimed when asked why he robbed banks, that’s where they keep the money. Hotels aren’t banks but they are tasty targets nonetheless.

Hotels also have demonstrated a long running lack of seriousness about mounting real cyber defenses.  Why? This is expensive stuff, it requires highly skilled personnel (more expenses), hotels typically have many systems running and thus may points of vulnerability (from the gift shop to loyalty programs) and, well, so far we – the hotel guests – have shrugged off the industry’s vulnerabilities.

There were 338 reported incidents involving hotels tallied in the most recent Verizon report.  Don’t assume that is a complete count. That’s because, according to Verizon, 68% of the breaches took months or longer to detect – and maybe some still haven’t been detected.  

More factoids in the study: 93% of incidents involved hacking and 93% focused on payment information. 99% of attackers were financially motivated.

50% of the breaches involved organized criminal gangs.  

87% of the breaches took a minute or less.

Bottomline: Don’t trust hotels to protect you.  Just don’t.

What can a business traveler do?  Standard advice from security professionals to executives visiting countries where eavesdropping is the norm is to bring a “clean” electronic device – a new Chromebook, under $200 is a good choice.  Reserve it for travel use, put no personal information on it, and never log into a significant website (which includes an email server, a company data server, really anything that involves a password).

Sure, that nullifies a lot of the reason for bringing a computer on a trip. But at least you’ll know you are safe.

I now advise many domestic travelers to follow this advice.

Do that particularly if you plan to use hotel wifi because you have to view hotel wifi as potentially compromised.  

An alternative: always use your phone to create a personal hotspot and let it power your Internet connections.  Yes, there are (small) costs involved – $10 per gig via Project Fi which is what I use. But the cellular data connection is significantly more secure than is hotel wifi.

The drawback to cellular is that – usually – it runs slower than a decent hotel wifi connection.  Sure, some hotel wifi networks are dreadful but lately I am finding many offer adequate speeds.

And some employers just don’t want to pay data bills for their business travelers which is another reason to use the wifi.

But I do use my own computer with a cellular hotspot and have had no security lapses.

Want more security but using hotel wifi? Many travelers swear by VPN – virtual private networks – but typically they offer slower speeds and costs ordinarily are involved.  There also are reports that slick Russian hackers know how to penetrate at least some VPN connections.

Still – VPN is a lot better than using the naked hotel wifi when accessing email, files, etc.

I have also lately been playing with a secure, cloud-based browser called Silo that, for nominal charges (fees start at $100/year), provides you with a special browser you install on your computer.  You browse anonymously, and if you encounter malware, it downloads not to your computer but to Silo’s. What most impresses me about Silo is that in my tests it runs about as fast as Chrome. And it delivers much more safety than do the standard browsers.

Which proves the point: you can continue to use your own computer and visit the secure sites you want to visit (such as email) using hotel wifi if you install special, high security browsers.

Less won’t work.  Use VPN. Or a special security browser. Or a clean computer. 

Hotels are danger zones for business travelers.  Accept that as a reality in the Verizon research.

Accept also that airport public wifi is radically unsafe.

Accept that it’s up to you to protect yourself.

And take the necessary steps.

Digital Transformation and the Old Fashioned Con


By Robert McGarvey


For CU.20


Suddenly there is a stampede of self-professed experts who want to guide your credit union through its digital transformation.

Just one problem: quite a few of the experts may be bluffing.  Or full of wishful thinking. Or maybe they are just plain con artists.

It puts me in mind of Odysseus and his voyage past the Sirens in the early part of Homer’s classic poem.  They sing enticing songs but sailors who heard them and sought to get nearer were lured into shipwrecks.  

What did Odysseus do? He plugged the ears of his crew so they wouldn’t hear and he had them tie him to the mast so that even when he heard, he couldn’t act.

Some credit union CEOs really should think about having themselves tied to the vault to prevent them inking a digital transformation deal, and plugging the ears of other executives might not be out of line.

Not when so many tempting, sweet songs are getting sung.

Face this reality: just about every credit union needs to be plunging into a digital transformation because how and where and when we bank has been undergoing massive change in the past quarter century and the changes will continue.  Almost certainly, for instance, the main banking touchpoint for most consumers will become a smartphone. For many it already is. Many of us no longer write checks. Many haven’t been inside a branch in a year or more. The changes keep on coming.

Credit unions need to react, to respond, to plot a path through the digital tomorrow.

Many credit unions won’t survive.  They won’t transform fast or thoroughly enough.

But credit unions actually are well positioned to digitally transform – once they decide they want and need to.

The typical credit union can be more fleet footed than most banks.  Banks have vast legacy branch systems that increasingly seem like so much deadweight. But many bankers, by virtue of their personal pasts and their institutions’ balance sheet, are wed to their branches.  They will pay a price for that.

How should a credit union digitally transform?

It starts by knowing yourself. What does the institution stand for? What does it want to be in 10 years. Who are your members? What do they want from a financial institution?

The next step: look at the institution’s digital contact points and ask how they can be better? How can they better serve members? Most credit unions have blah online banking, their mobile banking is equally blah, and, sure, there are plenty of excuses about this – but it’s probably not going to be good enough.

Today’s comparison isn’t with the community bank down the street. It’s with Chase and, even scarier, with Amazon, Netflix, and the other big online players. Can you digitally compete with them?

What’s your busiest branch?  Your online banking site. And the mobile app is the next busiest.  How much time do you spend optimizing those channels?

You also need a digital marketing strategy, probably built around Facebook, definitely also a lively website.

A small sign in front of a branch is not 21st century marketing.

Most of us will start, and end, our search for financial institutions online. You need a plan for gaining visibility there.

You can’t do all this alone? Just about all credit unions will need to bring in fintech partners – but know that last year’s technology partners may not be right for helping chart your digital transformation,

Many credit union technology vendors reap profits from the status quo which, frankly, as far as technology goes is primitive in the credit union world. But the profits say it’s not in their interest to rock this boat and so they don’t.

Understand this: it’s simply crazy that you can’t use the mobile banking platform you want because it doesn’t easily or cheaply interface with your core  And so a system that may be 20 years old, or is it 40, is dictating the technology landscape?

But so it goes at many credit unions.

What vendors can help you?  Search for partners with rich fintech cred.  Worry less about credit union bona fides and, for many credit unions, their first question always is, what credit unions have you worked with?

That may not be good enough.

What you want are guides who can lead you into and through the digital wilderness.  

Pick wisely.  But pick boldly.

Some years ago the CTO of one of the world’s biggest banks told me what he did when his CEO tasked him with getting a mobile app for the bank.  He downloaded many of the most popular apps at the time, spent a weekend absorbed in them, went to the office on Monday with a list of the 10 or so he liked the best.  None of those apps were at banks. Not a one. He put HR on finding out the names of the key developers, they called in people for interviews, and within a week or so he had assembled a project team to get his bank on the phone.

Was he concerned that none of the developers had banking experience? Not in the slightest. His bank, he said, had hundreds of executives who could add in banker smarts.  What he needed was people with digital smarts and he knew he wouldn’t find them at banks.

Do likewise is my advice.

Want inspiration for a credit union transformation? Read the story of Partners FCU.  

Credit unions are doing this.  

You can too.