How Frightened Should You Be About Amazon Banking?: Memo to Credit Unions

 

By Robert McGarvey

For CU2.0

 

Think very – that’s the question’s answer. But maybe you already have in hand the exact weapons you need to defend your position.  Surprised?

Read on.

Triggering this discussion is a recent Snarketing post by Cornerstone Advisors’ Ron Shevlin that  offered hard data about Amazon’s potential popularity as a consumer bank. 

Cornerstone had surveyed 2015 consumers – with both a bank account and a smart phone – and asked two questions: would you bank with Amazon for a free checking account?  Would you pay, $5 or $10 monthly, for a premium checking account that bundled in perhaps cell phone damage protection or roadside assistance?

Before guessing the answers – they will surprise you – feast on this recent headline from the Evening Standard newspaper in London: Is data the new oil? How information became the fuel of the future.

That question is deeply intertwined with Amazon’s possible banking play.

Ask yourself: what US company knows an incredible amount about you, probably more than any other?  Hint: it’s a company that sells just about everything, much of it delivered free within two days.

Amazon, very quietly, has emerged as a real king of the data mountain.  Google may know what interests you, Facebook may know who your friends (and enemies!) are, and Apple knows what tech bling you will splurge on, but Amazon – in many households – knows everything you buy, from groceries to clothes.

In 2017 Amazon tells me I placed 107 orders. Many were for multiple items.  From cat food to an Echo Look.  

Think how well that data resource positions Amazon to pounce into banking.  It knows its many millions of customers, it’s already providing credit cards and purchase credit to millions of them, and CEO Jeff Bezos has never shied away from offering discounts if he believes doing so will produce longterm profits.

Will Bezos take the plunge into the slow moving financial services world? Do we – consumers – want him to?

A free Amazon account just might seem to be a threat to a credit union sweet spot. According to Bankrate.com, 84% of credit union checking accounts have no monthly maintenance fee, up from 72% a couple years earlier. For many credit unions, this is a key marketing difference.

And yet Cornerstone’s research found something interesting.  Asked if they wanted a free Amazon checking account, 42% of consumers said nope.  Just 26% said they would open it.  Another 32% said they would consider it.

Matters get more intriguing when Cornerstone asked if they wanted a premium, bundled account with a small monthly fee of $5 or $10.  Only 34% said no thanks – that’s sharply down from the 42% who rejected the free account.

And 29% said they would open it, up from the 26% who said they would open a free account.

Does free carry less weight than you thought?

Is it maybe time to rethink using free as the centerpiece of the institution’s marketing?

Shevlin stressed that, at least superficially, the institutions that would be most impacted by an Amazon entry into banking would be the money center banks, mainly because they are courting millennials who, Cornerstone said, are the ones most attracted to the Amazon potential products.

But Shevlin tossed out this poisoned dart:  “The smaller financial institutions are already challenged in attracting younger consumers to their institutions. An Amazon entrance into banking will only make it harder for them.”

And remember this: Amazon may well know your members better than you do.

Frightening? You bet.  But there is that solution that already is in your hands.  The solution is to fight back by diving ever deeper into member data.  The data will tell you your next steps – if you learn to listen to it.

Plenty of credit union focused big data experts are adamant that credit unions can fight back against the Amazons.

Fight data with data.

You have lots of data, from sharedraft accounts, credit and debit cards, maybe car loans and home mortgages. Use the data you have to prepared a battle plan.

You will need it because, whether Amazon takes the plunge into consumer banking or not, other non banks will.  They already are circling this pond and they act as though they smell blood in the water.  

You have the data. It’s the only weapon you need.

And remember that in the 21st century data is indeed the new oil. Let it power your institutional growth.

 

Perfect Meetings in Downtown Phoenix (Without a Car!)

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

It’s the season. The downtown Phoenix Convention Center is rocking, the daytime high today will be low 60s (the low was 38 – Phoenix rarely freezes), and suddenly downtown Phoenix is abloom with conventioneers, Arizona State students (there’s a huge downtown campus, a satellite to the main Tempe campus), and the arts venues are throbbing.

Now is the time to discover downtown Phoenix. As recently as 10 years ago it was a lot of dirt. This morning there were, count ‘em, four cranes at work.  Every speck of dirt is filling in, generally nowadays with apartments and condos.

Used to be Phoenix and meetings meant in fact Scottsdale, a separate city.  Scottsdale still hosts meetings (I used to live next to the Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, a place that is always busy with meetings).  

But my advice is this: cajole your meeting planners to meet downtown.

It’s just so much more fun and, in downtown, you are witnessing the rebirth of an area that had died. There is life downtown, plus extremely good food – Beard award winning – as well as good arts. And you can walk everywhere.

It starts with getting there. Hop the light rail at Sky Harbor, the fare is $2.  Yep. Two dollars.  Or buy an all day pass for $4. Downtown is maybe 15 minutes west of the airport. You could take a cab but why? It’s no faster.

Where to stay? If yours is a convention center meeting you have plenty of choices. A Kimpton, Hyatt (probably the closest), Renaissance, Hilton Garden Inn (in an old bank building), the FoundRe, Sheraton Grand (also very close), Westin, Hotel San Carlos (a historic hotel – read TripAdvisor before booking, comments are very mixed), and a lot more. Whatever you want is downtown.  Well, maybe not a real five diamond property, but there are plenty of choices anyway.  

Was me, I’d stay at the Sheraton Grand – Arizona’s largest hotel with 1000 rooms – mainly because of the convenience. But note: the shopping center across the street is an active construction zone. I walk by it just about daily, can’t say it’s especially noisy, but some might complain nonetheless.  

Where to eat? The must go is Beard award winning Chris Bianco’s Pizzeria,  Eat the Wise Guy pizza ($19), fennel sausage and housemade mozz.  Drink a nice Italian red.  Reservations are not accepted. Singles are readily accommodated at the bar. If the wait is too long, you can also get food in Bar Bianco next door.

Bianco’s eatery is in Phoenix’s Heritage Square, a collection of very old houses a few short blocks from the convention center. Bianco’s neighbor in Heritage Square is Nobuo, where the chef is also a Beard award winner. The food is Japanese and it is clever, delightful.  The tasting menu is $80, for around seven courses.

Next eat at Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva, to me Phoenix’s best Mexican food, from Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza. Go with the set tasting menu (there’s a vegan option that is simply outstanding). You’ll eat authentic Mexican foods that will dazzle you with their originality.  Taco Bell this isn’t. The tasting menu – 5 or 6 courses – is $42.  A wine pairing – Mexican pours of course – is around $20.  Technically, this is well within downtown but my advice is to Uber there and back.  Grand Street – where the restaurants its – is a street where many get lost.  

What to do? I’ll tell you my three favorite haunts.

Many weekends in season I am at the Phoenix Symphony (nextdoor to the convention center) where the fare usually is classical music. This weekend for instance it’s Sibelius and Debussy. A night of Mozart and Beethoven is coming up.  Pops are mixed in – a few Sundays ago I saw a Harry Potter film accompanied by the orchestra.  Tickets often are available same day. Prices range from around $45 to a tick over $100. 

The only disadvantage: most concerts play weekends only.

But you still have choices during the business week.  There’s the Heard Museum ($18), probably the nation’s best Native American fine arts museum – with kitschy, wonderful stuff like Barry Goldwater’s kachina collection.  The Heard is open just about every day from 9:30am to 5 p.m.  Go and you will see art that surprises.  

The Heard, by the way, is in “midtown,” adjacent to downtown. It’s an easy 30 minute walk or take the lightrail west to Encanto.  The museum is across the street.

Also go to the Phoenix Art Museum ($18 admission), where I go maybe a few dozen times a year. Closed Mondays. There’s a rotating mix of special exhibits – I loved the Warhol show and was very impressed with a recent exhibition of contemporary Brazilian art.  It’s a manageable museum. You can see a lot in an afternoon.

The Phoenix Art Museum also is on the light rail. Get off at McDowell; it’s right there. It’s maybe a 20 minute walk from downtown.

You want more? Stop in at Bitter & Twisted for craft cocktails.  Step into St. Mary’s Basilica, the oldest Catholic church in Phoenix (across the street from the convention center).  See a play at the Herberger.  See a show at the magnificent, restored Orpheum.  

The list goes on. There just is so much to do in central Phoenix.  And in the winter there is no better city for walking.  

 

Become a Tech Company – or Die: Memo to Credit Unions

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

For Cu2.0

 

A credit union leader has to break out in a cold sweat reading Aite Group’s new report on the top 10 trends transforming retail banking.

Here’s trend 1: Tech Firms Become Banks.

Trend 2 is blunter: Banks become tech firms.

That latter trend ends with this prediction: “Going forward, the banks that quickly adapt and recognize this shift will stay relevant to their customers and even gain a stronger foothold in the market. Those that do not will struggle to acquire and retain customers, and to survive.”

Read that again. What Aite is saying is that credit unions that don’t climb aboard the tech express are doomed.

Does that mean you?

I’m not aware of an exact count but I would be surprised if at least half of today’s credit unions aren’t hopelessly mired in a Luddite world of anti technology.  So many want to blather on about how great their branches are and what wonders their employees are, as though either matters in a 21st century technology world.

But back up.  Look at the threat. Increasingly, tech companies from Quicken Loans to PayPal are gobbling up traditional bank and credit union business.

Non banks are on track to very soon have more than 50% of the home mortgage business. PayPal and Venmo, meantime, are feasting on p2p payments, a niche many credit union executives saw as theirs just five years ago but between bad tools and bad marketing, credit unions are increasingly irrelevant in a sector that looms as one of the key financial tools used by Millennials,

Amazon, maintime, has made more than $1 billion in small business loans – how many bankers and credit union execs even know they are in that business?  Credit unions may want to up their business lending operations, but do they have a market that craves their offerings?

Non banks also are zeroing in on car loans.

Some techs may even unfurl official banking colors. Aite’s Julie Conroy, in an email, wrote this: “Square already has a bank charter application in progress, and I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility that Amazon would set up a wholly owned sub to do something similar.”  

Amazon and PayPal both have been meeting with bank regulators.  Nobody knows exactly why but a good guess is that both are interested in expanding their bank-like activities (with or without bank charters).  

Conroy, in the report, also warns that banks – this also means you, credit unions – are increasingly becoming what she calls an ingredient brand to whom the consumer has little or no loyalty. The consumer uses Apple Pay, does he/she remember what financial institution it is connected through? Ditto PayPal. Android Pay. Etc.  They all run on financial institution rails but few consumers really care what card is connected. They see themselves as Apple Pay loyalists, period.

And she points to Asia where Alibaba and Tencent “have made substantial inroads” into banking.

There are no good reasons to think similar won’t happen here.

David Albertazzi, writing in the Aite report, offered this warning: “FIs need to change entering 2018. They need to fundamentally shift their mindset, business model, and operating model. They must be equipped to fight for the modern consumer—who, because of technology, has a whole new set of expectations. The modern consumer doesn’t want a traditional branch bank. They want their transactions to happen on their mobile devices in real time and on-demand. This is why FIs must become tech companies and provide elegant, nimble, and technologically sophisticated solutions to their customers.”

He also advised a “sharp increase in digital transformation.”  So right. It’s hard to find a credit union that doesn’t have a digital transformation committee. But it’s harder to find a credit union where that committee has any say beyond what doughnuts to serve at the next meeting.  It just is time to get very serious about digital transformation.

That’s because your institutional life depends on it.

Wrote Conroy in her email to me: “Effective use of technology will be increasingly important to competition for FIs of all sizes.  Those FIs that don’t invest (either in their own tech stack, or by finding progressive processing partners) and are constrained by legacy technology will increasingly be marginalized.”

What do you need to do now?  Commit to going digital – really – in the next year or two.  Poll members on what digital tools they want and offer them.  Keep hunting for powerful digital tools your members will want.

And ask yourself this: if I didn’t have to use my institution’s technology, would I?

If you wouldn’t, why are you offering it to members?

Do better.

Read the Aite report.  It’s short. But it will give you sleepless nights.

And that is good for you as you face a crossroads in consumer banking where those who take the wrong fork are heading towards extinction.

Take the other fork.

 

Delta Is Betting You Will Pay Your Own Money for Better Seats. I’d Bet You Won’t

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Delta Airlines is betting big that you will dig into your own pocket to pay to upgrade your seat – and they say they took in $80 million last year after they allowed customers to upgrade after purchase.  

They also say they will begin allowing passengers to pay for upgrades with miles.

Are you on board with this?

The problem of course is that many employers and clients simply refuse to pay for upgraded air.  When I began in the workplace 40 years ago, the standard policy – at two of my first employers – was that if a flight was over 2 hours, they would pay for first class (business class had not yet caught on).

But now I have exactly no clients who will pay for upgraded air. To anywhere. That means if I’m flying from Phx to Sin, it’s in coach.  For maybe 21 hours.  Ouch.

If I want upgraded comfort, it comes out of my pocket.

Same for you probably.

Delta insists we are opening our own wallets.  

Are you?

I cannot recall ever paying my own money to upgrade air seating.  Never. I do recall many cases where I used miles to buy upgrades but I rationalized it with the thought that client X had in a way bought the miles because I earned them on flights paid for by X and if I used them on another flight for X, all was right with the world.

I am not sure I am entirely correct about that. But it’s how my brain worked.

And mine is a brain schooled in travel by hardened 1970s road warriors who were sure it was a sin to spend one’s own money on a business travel.

Thus my deep hesitation to pay for a better airplane seat.

Indeed, I still cannot wrap my mind around paying actual cash, from my pocket, for a better seat.  I just will not do it.

Will you?

Skift, by the way, reports that Delta will generate two receipts.  One for the base fare, one for the upgrade. The idea is to hand in for reimbursement the base fare receipt and thus dodge any hassles from bean counters.

Skift also quoted Delta’s president this way: “the goal is to avoid ‘driving to the bottom’ by selling an airline seat as a ‘commodity.’ Instead, it wants to attract “people who are discerning who want to buy premiums and products and services.”

But wait. Airline seats on US carriers are “commodities” and are fungible.  Telling me they aren’t is presupposing massive gullibility on my part.

Interesting, however, is that per Delta’s CEO – as quoted by Skift – the carrier a few years ago sold 15% of its domestic first class seats (the rest were given out to folks like me, typically for no payment at all). Now Delta sells about 50% of its upfront seats and it wants to sell more.

CEO Ed Bastian added this: “One of the reasons why we moved into the paid upgrade opportunity, not only does it allow customers to provide certainty by being able to buy the experience, but we also have a very good product in our Comfort+, which we didn’t have in the past, so that for many of our loyal customers that were unable to upgrade, they now have a place where they can actually have an enhanced experience, versus prior years where you’d be in the main cabin.”

I’m still not in.  I long ago decided I could handle the six hour discomfort of flying from LAX to EWR in coach – it’s not that bad.  Really. I don’t eat the food upfront, I don’t drink alcohol on business flights, and I don’t want to sleep on domestic flights. I don’t do any of that in coach either, but so what?

So I can get what I want, at a cheap price, from coach.

Why would I spend my money to get a slightly upgraded experience upfront?

My answer is that I won’t.

What’s yours?

When I see subheads like this – from CNBC “Passengers are opening their wallets” what I smell is airline spin. Say it’s so loud enough and often enough and it just may be believed.

But not here.

The Non Bank Threat to Sharedraft Accounts: Why Your Lunch May Be Eaten

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

For Credit Union 2.0

 

You already know that non banks are fast in a race to seize a majority of home mortgages but the far, far worse news is that non banks may soon be grabbing your sharedraft business.

Credit unions have options. They can win this. But that will involve big changes in mindset.

Here’s a nudge towards that new reality: in November, the acting Comptroller of the Currency, Keith Noreika, said he believed it was time for a fresh debate on the role of non banks in traditional banking. Implied was an endorsement of a possible role for companies like WalMart in banking.

The current Comptroller of the Currency, Joseph Otting, has been on record supporting similar.

One more reason to worry: evidence mounts that a sizable slice of the population, mainly but not exclusively millennials, has been moving money out of banks and into other parking places. They are finding that just maybe they can get along fine without banks and credit unions.

Don’t assume a credit union future is a given. Ten years ago how many book and record stores realized they were at the end of the line?  How about consumer electronics stores? Now even grocery stores seem on life support, as WalMart on the one hand and Amazon-Whole Foods on the other seem primed to devour the market.

Banking services are very much in play.

Probably the most cogent arguing on this issue is from Ron Shevlin, now with Cornerstone Advisors. In a Snarketing post Shevlin points out that “the percentage of US households without a checking account dropped from 8.2% in 2011 to 7% in 201, and since 2000, deposits at banks have tripled.”

So,that means things are good? Nope. Shevlin continued: “there is a longer-term trend that will hamper financial institutions’ efforts to keep up the recent pace of growth. I have a name for this trend: deposit displacement.”

His point: huge volumes of money are shifting out of traditional checking and sharedraft accounts and into new vehicles such as health savings accounts, P2P tools such as PayPal, retailer mobile apps (think Starbucks, whose customers are believed to have multiple billions of dollars parked in their apps), also robo-advisors.

I’d add to the list the rise of prepaid debit cards which a growing number of consumers are using as a replacement for both credit cards and sharedraft accounts. Many billions of dollars already are funneled quarterly through the popular Visa and Mastercard prepaid debit card channels.

Personally I’ve had a Bluebird card, via Amex, for some years. It even comes with a checkbook option. 

I also use PayPal multiple times monthly, to pay some recurring charges (Netflix, NYTimes) and to put money in the hands of relatives and friends.

An advantage of options such as prepaid debit cards and P2P tools: most involve no credit check. Set up is nearly instant. The friction has been removed from the system.

Go ahead and attempt to open a new sharedraft account at a credit union near you where you have no present relationship. Word of warning: it won’t be easy. And it may be impossible to do it online. Just sayin’.

Why is money moving out of checking accounts? Simple: there often is no benefit to the member in keeping money in that account. And many accounts involve all manner of fees deemed sneaky by many consumers.

Try to use a prepaid debit card to buy groceries at Safeway and if the attempted charge is over the balance, there’s only a little embarrassment as the checker says the card has been declined. Try to pay with a checking account and there is maybe an overdraft fee of perhaps $35. For what? A few bits and bytes burping in the matrix?

Warned Shevlin: “Deposit gathering for all financial institutions will become more difficult over the next five years, as this trend toward deposit displacement accelerates. Combating deposit displacement means reinventing checking accounts.”

Read that again. It’s time to re-invent checking and sharedraft accounts. Burn the fees. Banish the friction. Make the accounts easy to use, easy to initiate, easy to predict the costs involved. Create incentives for use of the sharedraft account.  

Does your credit union offer a prepaid debit card option? Few do. But many, many big banks do, from Chase to Wells Fargo.

Navy Federal wins kudos for offering a prepaid debit card. How many other credit unions do?

Best advice: urgently slate a meeting to reinvent your sharedraft account. That’s just about the only way to stop the displacement of funds that Shevlin warns about. It will happen unless you take prompt steps to stop it.

 

Are You Less Safe in an Uber?

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

Blunt question: do you feel less safe in an Uber or Lyft than you do in a properly medallioned taxi driven by a properly licensed taxi driver?  The National Limousine Association is betting that you do – at least that you will after seeing its fear provoking TV ads.  

The pitch is that ride sharing drivers haven’t been drug tested or thoroughly background checked.

But licensed taxi drivers are both, said the National Limousine Association.

Ask the passengers of John Worboys about that. A black taxi driver in London – thus a certified possessor of “the knowledge” – in 2009 Worboys was sent to prison for sexually assaulting at least 12 women, usually after drugging them in his cab.  He is said to have been one of the most prolific sexual assaulters in UK history. Over 100 women stepped forward and accused him.  Police believe his victim count could have exceeded 500.

Closer to home there is Sherman Jackson II, owner and operator of Sherman’s Safe Ride in Butler County, OH, who was charged with sexually assaulting two Miami University students. (Jackson denied the accusation.)  

In Washington, DC, Yared Geremew Mekonnen, a taxi driver, was arrested for raping a passenger who, incidentally, had fallen asleep in the backseat of Mekonnen’s cab. When she awoke, she said he was raping her.  Mekonnen too denied the allegation.

In Chicago, a taxi driver was arrested for raping drunk Loyola students, according to claims by the prosecutor.  

The list could go on. Travis Bickle isn’t the only criminal taxi driver – there are plenty of deviants in real life.

I also could quickly assemble a collection of cases involving Uber and Lyft drivers. Absolutely.

My point is that the National Limousine Association is just plain ignorant if it believes it can make a case that passengers feel less safe in an Uber than a licensed taxi and that they should feel less safe.

In many cases, by the way, ride share drivers are former taxi drivers who say they make more money with the ride share outfits. At least that’s what I have heard from a number of drivers.

Understand: I personally drove a taxi, off and on, in Boston and Cambridge, Mass.  I had hackney licenses issued by both towns. As I recall, the vetting – conducted by the city issuing the license – consisted of taking my fingerprints and running them through an FBI database.  

 

In Phoenix, where I now live, getting a taxi license apparently involves providing a criminal background check.  

I am not anti taxi driver.

But I am also not anti Uber driver.

I am against inflammatory ads that hope to stoke groundless fears however.

Look, background checks aren’t that hard.  Recently, I offered myself as a volunteer in the Catholic Church in Phoenix.  I learned that volunteering requires watching a “Safe Environment” video and filling out a fairly extensive personal history as well as providing three or four personal references and agreeing to a criminal background check.

That may seem a lot but given the Church’s recent history it quite clearly is necessary.

If I can do that much to serve as a volunteer, surely ride-share drivers can do similar.

At Uber they do in fact – which makes the National Limousine Association argument that much more baffling.

Lyft does too.  

Also, with Uber and Lyft your ride is logged by the computers.  There’s a record of the route and time. That’s more than usually documents a taxi ride.

I am not saying that therefore your safety is guaranteed in an Uber ride – or a medallioned yellow cab. Use your wits. If you feel unsafe, get out.  Don’t doubt your instincts.

But very, very probably all will be well, no matter which transportation mode you choose.

Oh, one last slap at the National Limousine Association. A few years ago I was a passenger in a licensed Journal Square, Jersey City taxi where the driver’s license was prominently displayed. I look at such things, probably because of my personal background.

In this case, the photo caught my eye because it was an entirely different person!

And I’m supposed to feel safer in a taxi?

That ride proceeded without incident by the way.

They almost always do.

 

Say Goodbye to “Do Not Disturb” Signs at Hotels

 

By Robert McGarvey

 

The Orlando Sentinel has the, well, deeply disturbing news about the apparent demise of “Do Not Disturb” signs at four Disney Florida hotels, with the door left open to expanding the policy to more hotels.  

The paper reported: “The tighter security measures come months after an Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas, where a gunman shot from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel tower and killed 58 people, wounding hundreds more.

“Disney declined to say whether the shooting prompted the change for its policy but said it made the decision for a variety of factors, including safety, security and the guest experience.”

Excuse me but this is even clumsier than the typical hotelier response to out of the normal events.

Other hotels – see below – are beginning to hop aboard this trend.

It makes no sense and, for many of us, it represents a substantial inconvenience.  I say that because over the years I have heard from many dozens of business travelers who routinely pop the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the room door when they check in and it stays there until they check out a day or two later.

Of course if a stay is longer just about all business travelers will surrender to the need for fresh towels and a bit of buffing up of the accommodations and will take off that sign – but as soon as housekeeping has done its job the sign goes back up.

Some business travelers have complained to me about the theft of personal electronics from their rooms, iPads especially – and it’s a rare inroom safe big enough to hold a full size iPad. Others tell me they suspected somebody had fiddled with their computer or maybe sifted through papers – looking for intel on a competitor?  Still others just don’t like the idea of a stranger having private time with their belongings even when that stranger is an employee of the hotel.

These business travelers will just love Disney’s new “right to enter” policy which replaces “Do Not Disturb” signs with “Room Occupied” signs and explicitly gives the hotel a right to enter daily

If you have a problem with this, Disney told the Orlando Sentinel it will discuss the issue with concerned guests individually.

Lots of people will have problems so Disney better be prepared. When travel blogger Gloria Atanmo surveyed her Facebook followers, 55% said they would rather housekeeping not tidy their rooms.  Mainly for privacy reasons.

A problem with this new Disney policy – just one of many problems – is that it sets on a collision course the desire of housekeepers to clean an unoccupied room with the desire of many business travelers to never let their unoccupied room be entered to safeguard their own privacy and security.

Many hotels of course have a policy of not allowing housekeepers to enter a room when the guest is present, I hear because of concerns over incidents where guests have sexually harassed housekeepers. These are very real issues and the housekeepers have my full support.  

But there is no plain path to satisfying both the housekeeper desire for security and the guest’s desire for security.

Let’s go back to the Stephen Paddock incident. Apparently on at least two separate occasions hotel staff helped Paddock bring gun stuffed bags up to his room via the service elevator.  

Then, too, alert staff surely might have noticed that Paddock was bringing a lot of luggage into his room. That alone would have been worth a visit by security.

But that does not mean that every guest needs to have his.her room inspected for security purposes on a daily basis.

On a business trip I typically travel with one carryon bag and one laptop case.  Most business travelers I know travel equally lean.  I scarcely have space to smuggle in a small bag of pretzels and a Diet Coke, no less an arsenal.

Why – exactly why – would my room warrant a daily visual search?

We all understand the panic triggered by Paddock’s mass killings on the Strip, just as we all felt the horrors of the 30+ murders at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai in 2008, killings perpetrated by two gunmen inside the hotel.  

Definitely hotels need better but also smarter security.

What Disney is implementing is neither. Let’s hope it doesn’t spread.

Now Hilton has climbed aboard.  Reported USA Today: “The McLean, Va.-based company is now suggesting that a team member alert a security or duty manager if a Do Not Disturb sign or light has been in place on a guestroom door for more than 24 consecutive hours.”

Hilton is a smarter take on this issue.  Not brilliant but much better than Disney.

What might hotels do better? It starts with training the front desk staff to be alert to unusual levels of baggage going into a room.  It may be harmless. The guest may be smuggling in warehouse-bought party supplies to circumvent paying for room service provisions for a soiree, for instance.

Ditto for training security staff.

Most hotels have a policy for dealing with longterm display of a “Do Not Disturb” sign by a guest but, according to the Las Vegas Review Journal, there is no industry standard. Post Paddock just about every hotel chain has scrambled to come up with an effective, coherent policy. But as the Disney fail shows, it’s not easy.

Personally, by the way, I am much more concerned about meth labs at hotels than I am about snipers – there just are a lot more meth labs and they can explode, catch on fire, and otherwise endanger the lives of unwitting guests in the same hotel.

That’s also why I say again it starts with being much more aware about what guests are bringing into their rooms as they bring the stuff in.

Not the next day when they hole up behind a “Do Not Disturb” sign.