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.


CUNA: Are the Eyes Wide Shut?


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0

With trumpets loudly blaring, CUNA has announced a new $100 million campaign, called “Open Your Eyes to a CU,” to awaken the country to the magic of credit unions – and just maybe keep the movement alive.

Questions multiply. Is this campaign needed?  Is CUNA the one to lead the charge?

CUNA CEO Jim Nussle laid out his case: “The future of our movement depends on more Americans than ever opening their eyes to everything a credit union offers them. By leveraging modern digital media tools to reach the right consumers at the right time, we’ll create a fresh image for credit unions and challenge their assumptions about who we are and what we do. When they open their eyes to a credit union, they’ll be pleased by what they see.”

“We can’t afford to wait on the sidelines any longer,” said Nussle.

Nussle added that banks outspend credit unions 43 to 1 on marketing.

Know this: five banks each spend over $1 billion annually on marketing.  Chase alone spends over $2 billion annually. Citi and Bank of America spend around $1.4 billion apiece. For a budget in the range of $100 million, look at Fifth Third or Santander – and if you don’t have a clue what they are doing, join the club.

Chase alone spends 20x what CUNA is talking about. 20x.

And the non banks spend even more. They are devouring the home mortgage market and just maybe checking is next.

That has to give you pause.

What are credit unions saying about CUNA’s plan? CUToday ran this: “I have heard three different reactions—like the tale of the three bears, and I don’t mean to be glib about this. But one says it’s too much, another says it’s not enough, and the third says it’s just right,” Nussle said. “This has been the reactions.”

Let me add a fourth reaction.

Start with the reality: credit unions are vanishing.  CUNA showed 5757 credit unions in February 2018, down 240 from February 2017. If the current rate of closure continues there will be 3000 credit unions in 2028.  In 1960 there were 10,000 federally chartered credit unions per NCUA.  

There is no way to sugar coat this.  Many credit unions – literally thousands – are on life support.

Should they trust the CUNA campaign to prop them up?

CUNA spells out its plans in more detail at this website.  Find the password for entry here.

What do I think is missing in CUNA’s planning? A glaring lack is substantial involvement by experts with  digital gravitas.  Where are the gurus with Google and Facebook and Amazon on their resumes? I’m not seeing that. I’m not seeing the brainiacs from fintechs, or the slick marketers from fringe agencies.

Credit union people are great people. But I just don’t see traditional credit union people alone leading the movement out of the torpor it finds itself in.  

There needs to be new, edgy thought leadership.  Boat rocking innovation.

Credit unions cannot match the budgets of big banks. But they could outdo them with creativity and with an embrace of revolution.

I don’t see that with CUNA’s efforts. There’s a well meaning messaging guide at the site – maybe I’m missing it but I don’t see anything that isn’t obvious.

That’s the trouble with what I see in the whole effort.

Obvious – painting within the established credit union lines – isn’t what’s needed today.

Credit unions need to wake up and embrace the belief that radical change is required.  Really, really radical. In both operations and messaging.

Credit unions are at a crossroads.  Many will die – unless there’s a wake up realization that utterly different approaches and different tactics are needed now.

Part of that, I strongly believe, is for credit unions to band together – and also for credit unions to leverage strengths with other kinds of cooperatives such as rural electrics and agricultural.  

When I look around, I also see quite a few credit unions succeeding – on their own, in their local markets.  A credit union is a local business and success will start locally.

Ask yourself:  What are we doing to embrace a digital tomorrow – not just in marketing but everywhere, in every operation of the credit union?

Embrace tomorrow.  It’s coming and it doesn’t care if you want it to or not.

What are you doing to be ready?


Whose Restaurant Reviews Do You Trust?


By Robert McGarvey


Hungry? Where do you eat? The question gets sharper when you are on the road and you have no personal ideas about where to eat in, say, Phoenix and neither do you know who to ask. Where do you turn?

My consistent recommendation is don’t eat at hotel restaurants and that means you have to venture out on the town.


New research, from CVENT and TripAdvisor, insists that the resource we trust is TripAdvisor. Said TripAdvisor about the finding: “The new CVENT survey, which analyzed the dining behaviors of more than 9,500 consumers across key markets in the US and Europe, revealed that TripAdvisor is overwhelmingly regarded as the most influential online dining resource compared to Google, Facebook and Yelp.”

I am on record as changing my position on TripAdvisor, shifting from favorable to unfavorable, largely because of a lot of deleted negative reviews at the service.  Read the story.  

I also see TripAdvisor primarily as a hotel review site.  I see it as having a secondary interest in restaurants.

This survey paints a different picture.  TripAdvisor’s goal, obviously, is for travelers to look first to it for advice on where to eat.

Should we?

Or maybe the question is, do we?

TripAdvisor’s data say we do.

According to it:

94% of us in the US said online reviews influenced our decisions about where to dine.

60% of us said online photos influenced our decision.

90% of us – !! – said TripAdvisor inspired us to try new restaurants.

When asked what sites we used to research restaurants when at home, 78% of us pointed to TripAdvisor.  41% said Yelp. 28% said Google. 12% said Facebook.

When traveling, 93% said they used TripAdvisor.  32% said Yelp. 24% said Google. 7% said Facebook.

How accurate are TripAdvisor restaurant reviews? According to this survey, “When compared with Google, Facebook, and Yelp, up to 94% of respondents in participating markets said that TripAdvisor provides the more accurate, trustworthy, helpful, and descriptive restaurant reviews and photos.”  

Yelp managed a pathetic 11% trustworthy rating.  Google reviews snared 3% trustworthy. Facebook at 1%.

So is the verdict that clear? Should we dine with TripAdvisor?

When I looked at TripAdvisor’s rankings for best pizza in Phoenix, I’ll admit they aren’t bad.  I’d put Bianco in front of Pomo but Pomo’s pies are excellent.  Cibo, also in the top five, is quite good too (and a more charming setting).

When I looked for the best deli in New York, however, the results are puzzling. Katz’s ranked 13. Something called Pret a Manger ranked 14.  Sarge’s ranked higher than Katz’s at 11. In first is Murray’s Cheese – excellent but no deli. Number two is Russ and Daughters, also excellent but no deli. The resulting list has some good suggestions but often not actually delis. 

When I searched for best restaurant in Sedona, TripAdvisor ranked Elote Cafe #3 and Dahl and Di Luca #7 and I’d score both higher.

As I searched through more restaurant rankings in TripAdvisor, I came to a conclusion: the rankings generally were better than I expected them to be – but I still wouldn’t use them.  To me, reviews are useless unless I know the reviewer and his/her tastes. I am agreeable with Pete Wells’ reviews in the New York Times, with Jonathan Gold in Los Angeles, with Michael Bauer in San Francisco, with Tom Sietsema in Washington DC, and my advice to you is find a reviewer whom you trust in the cities you frequently visit and go with their suggestions.

In Rome I’ll follow the advice of Joe Brancatelli and Katie Parla.  

In Dublin I’ll probably follow my own advice.  

If I’m looking for a good burger – and often that’s exactly what I eat on the road (unless I am scrupulous in minding my health) – I’d use Ralph Raffio’s JoeSentMe burger guide (and, yeah, I share an unnatural fondness for White Castle)

The reviewer can be a co-worker, friend or family member too – if your tastebuds match up with theirs.  That’s key: it doesn’t matter if a reviewer is a great writer. What matters is alignment of tastes.

With the online services I just don’t trust the taste of the people who post reviews and, you know what, I just about never post such reviews myself.  Who does those reviews as a hobby? Not many people known to me.

That’s why my advice is: Find trustworthy people in the towns where you are going to be eating. That’s key.

Do I ignore the online review sites? Generally, yes.  But I usually eat well because I know who to trust.

The Best Credit Union in Every State: The Forbes Rankings


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


How does your credit union stack up against competitors?  A 21st century reality – especially as fields of membership have broadened – is that credit unions do compete against each other. Rankings matter. But, just maybe, they also could matter a great deal to the movement as a whole.

Paradox? Read on for the unraveling.

Probably the biggest competition is from the money center banks with massive marketing budgets, and very talented marketers spending the money.  But many consumers will in fact decide between two credit unions. A lot belong to two credit unions – I personally do – and in that case there usually is one institution that is the winner, the other gets a thin slice of business.  What does it take to be the top credit union?

A new ranking is out via Forbes and market research firm Statista and the result is Best-In-State Banks and Credit Unions.

It joins a crowded ranking field.  Nerd Wallet, J. D Power, Money Magazine, and others have been busily ranking financial institutions.

So how do Forbes-Statista arrive at their rankings? Here’s the explanation: “Statista surveyed more than 25,000 customers in the U.S. for their opinions on their current and former banking relationships. The banks and credit unions were rated on overall recommendations and satisfaction, as well as five subdimensions (trust, terms and conditions, branch services, digital services and financial advice).”

The biggest institutions are excluded from the rankings.  Chase, B of A, Wells, and about 10 more banks with operations in at least 15 states were excluded.  The only credit union with enough reach to be excluded is Navy Federal.

In every state, from one to five institutions were named “best.”  All counted, 124 banks and 145 credit unions were named best.

Importantly, credit unions beat banks.  Said Forbes: “Credit unions, which are member-owned financial cooperatives, outpace banks with an average score of 80 versus 75.2 for banks.”

“Customers prefer credit unions because they themselves are the shareholders,” says Statista CEO Friedrich Schwandt in Forbes. “This is somewhat in keeping with the motto ‘Small is beautiful.’”

Take note: win or lose, this is a story that every credit union should be getting out. That’s because credit unions as a group rocked in the rankings.  To me, it’s just about irrelevant which institutions actually won. What matters more is that lots of Americans applaud what credit unions are doing and they prefer credit unions over banks.

Get that message out.  Don’t be shy.

Of course you want to know which were the highest rated credit unions.  Here’s the big winer: Louisiana based Barksdale Federal, with $1.34 billion in assets, with around 20 branches, mostly around Shreveport, scored 94.93.  

Connecticut’s Thomaston Savings Bank scored 95.4, the highest rating in the survey. Its assets are just over $1 billion.

A powerful conclusion: $1 billion gives an institution enough bulk to play hard ball, successfully.  Neither of the winning institutions is a powerhouse. But they are much liked by those know them. You don’t have to be a money center bank to wow consumers.

That is a good news for the movement story

And it is getting out.

Right now, many of the top credit unions in the Forbes research are issuing press releases to announce their score.

CUNA, too, issued a press release touting credit union ascendancy.

My advice to any credit union that scored high in the ratings is to issue a press release. I cannot promise that a Forbes victory will bring in a lot of new members but I will say it is very good to get out the news that many credit unions in fact rank among the best financial institutions.  A lot of consumers persist in seeing credit unions as musty, dusty oldfashioned places and that just is not so.

Publicly celebrating victories is way to dispel those old myths.  

And one credit union’s win in many ways helps the reputation of all.

How did your credit union do in the ratings?

My principal credit union – Affinity in New Jersey – ranked best in the state with a score of 83.32.

The credit union I belong to in Arizona did not finish in the top three. I have no plan to change credit unions to join a higher rated institution but, honestly, I make small use of this local credit union anyway.  It’s fine for my purposes.

Sure, credit unions compete with each other – but probably the biggest hurdle to new members are beliefs that credit unions are closed universes with tight membership restrictions and also that they just aren’t modern financial institutions.

That’s why, win or lose, in these rankings, I see it in the interest of all credit unions to get out the word about how the industry scored in these ratings.

The bottomline: tell people about the Forces rankings, tell them how well credit unions did, and tell them they can in fact – easily – join a credit union.


The Cooperative Advantage: Are You Using It?

By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0 



Credit unions are cooperatives – although not all know it.

Now you do.

But the important reality is that, as a cooperative, a credit union has a potentially massive ecosystem to tap into, composed of like minded cooperators.

Few credit unions mine that vein.  It’s a mistake. A huge mistake.

I have often heard from executives at cooperatives – agriculture and rural electric in particular – that they just don’t get why credit unions in their region aren’t reaching out to partner in joint venture marketing initiatives to get out the message that cooperatives, by their very nature, are entirely different from for profit businesses.

They exist to serve members. Not to make profits for shareholders and a few owners.  

That is as big as differences get.

So, how big is the cooperative universe in the United States? Nobody knows, not with any precision. In its 2016 annual report the National Cooperative Business Association wrote this: “In 1997, the U.S. Census Bureau stopped identifying the cooperative business sector in any of its census or business reporting surveys. Since then the only available data on co-ops came from federally-supported research by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives in 2007. That study found that there were 29,000 cooperatives in the U.S. that account for more than $3 trillion in assets, more than $500 billion in revenue, and sustain nearly two million jobs. NCBA CLUSA now estimates that there are closer to 40,000 cooperative businesses in the U.S., but census data is needed to confirm that number.”

In another metric, the National Cooperative Business Association annually releases a list of the biggest 100 co-ops.  Here’s the 2017 list.  Note that Navy Federal ranked as the eighth biggest cooperative.  Pentagon Federal is 65. BECU is 88.

There are many big brands on the list: Land O Lakes. Ace. True Value.  Blue Diamond. Ocean Spray. Cabot Creamery. Welch Foods.

There also are many rural electric co-ops that rarely are known outside their locale but where they serve they usually are well known and well respected. Many of them, by the way, now are also extending into offering high-speed Internet to their rural customers who thus far have mainly been excluded from the digital revolution.

(The United Kingdom, incidentally, has much better data about cooperatives. Here’s a snapshot from a  recent annual report: “The Co-op Economy 2018 report highlights how the UK’s 7,226 independent co-ops turned over £36.1bn last year, contributing 1.9% to the UK’s GDP of £1.9tn. This represents an increase from the £35.2bn in turnover in the previous year. Co-ops also employ 235,000 people, compared to 226,000 in 2017. Their membership has grown from 12m in 2017 to 13m in 2018.”)

Very possibly cooperatives are as important in the U.S. economy. Just think of the many unheralded agricultural cooperatives, for instance. The numbers add up.

What’s the point? Here it is and it is sharp: what is your credit union doing to co-market with cooperatives in your location?

The answer – typically – is nothing.

That’s a mistake. Loyal customers and members of cooperatives already are convinced of the benefit of a co-op.  You don’t have to persuade an REI member that a cooperative is a better way to do business. They already know.

What can credit unions do with cooperatives? Think of jointly sponsored events, even a co-op fair where a half dozen or a dozen co-ops come together, offer samples and information to guests, and generally talk up the cooperative difference.

Print up a short history of the Rochdale weavers and how their determination to create a better way established the cooperative framework we still follow 175 years later.  I have never talked with anybody about the Rochdale weavers and their principles and not left that person impressed with the cooperative difference.

Members of cooperatives are prime potential credit union members. Ask them. Woo them. Ask local cooperatives for help in reaching out to their members.

Few credit unions take this marketing approach and there is no good reason why not.

Many credit unions have lost their founding SEG – once the bedrock relationship of most credit unions – but now there are thousands of like minded cooperatives to joint venture with.

What’s stopping you?

Orwell in Orlando: Smile for the Facial Scan


By Robert McGarvey


Big news rocking the Internet travel boards is that Orlando Airport is beginning to scan the faces of all international passengers including US citizens.  

There also are more limited tests of face scans ongoing at eight US airports including Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, McCarran International Airport, Houston William P. Hobby Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and Miami International Airport.

How is this justified? The US Customers and Border Patrol has said a March 6, 2017 Executive Order calls upon CBP to “expedite the completion of a biometric entry exit tracking system for in-scope travelers to the United States.”

Many travelers are reacting with fear and uncertainty.

Others insist this is the beginning of our Orwellian end.

Some of the anti scanning arguments are well thought out and zero in on doubts about the reliability of scans as well as complaints about the immense costs associated with the program (in the billions).

What do you think?

Frankly, I am inclined to shrug it off.  Mind you, I am a staunch civil libertarian.  I see essentially no limits as appropriate on speech or the press.

And yet my knickers aren’t knotted over the face scans at Orlando and elsewhere.

The process, incidentally, is said to take two seconds and have a 99% match rate.

Terrorism – unquestionably – remains a worry of every traveler. In recent years our real threats have mainly been ground based terrorism but it wasn’t that many years ago when the skies were a battleground and in those days I remember feeling grateful with every safe landing.

Will face scans in fact make us safer?  That’s the real question.

I am a huge believer in the power of data to deliver more safety to us, especially at airports and in the skies. Government, I believe, only now is beginning to make serious efforts to harness big data.

Face scans included.

I also know my face is on file at the US government – yours probably is too. The other day I sat for a face shot to get Global Entry.  I had another photo in connection with applying for TSA Pre. Of course there’s a passport photo (actually a montage of photos covering many passports over many decades).  And there are who knows how many photos associated with my many driver’s licenses, even hackney licenses in Boston and Cambridge.

Apparently, in this CBP process, only the passport photo is used in the match and you need one to fly internationally anyway.

The US government knows what I look like and if that helps make me – and you – stay safer at airports and in the air, I am okay with a face scan.

As Joe Brancatelli said to me, “they take your picture for Global Entry every time you come INTO the country, so what’s the big deal when you LEAVE the country.”

Privacy advocates worry about people who are denied boarding because their face scan doesn’t match the photo on file. Others say that face scanning of non whites has more inaccuracies than of whites.

Obviously these are issues that need dealing with.

Also, there are many reports of hackers fooling face recognition tools – for logging into a phone for instance. A decent photo may sometimes work magic.

But photos and masks are highly unlikely to go unnoticed at an airport.  This isn’t a worry I have.

Do we need face scans on top of the many checks already in place?  The government generally has many hours to check international passengers against lists of people about whom there are worries.

Toss enough data into that stew and maybe we don’t also need face scans.


By the way, British Air has used face scans in tests at LAX, JFK, Orlando and Miami.  It said the technology dramatically sped up boarding.

Sure, there are good reasons to fret about yet more biometrics used on us.  I get that. But, for now, I say let’s give the scans a chance. With all the federal government already has on file about me I don’t see what more is lost with this.

And if it ups safety in the air and at the airport, I am all in.


Count Me a Global Entry Fan


By Robert McGarvey


Maybe it is Phoenix where I live.

But I had read about long waits for Global Entry interviews and when I applied for preliminary approval – on June 4th – I braced myself for a lengthy wait.

I knew I had an international trip coming up in early autumn and my hope was that I’d have the card by then.

A few days after applying I checked online, saw a preliminary approval, indicated I wanted to see the next available appointments – and on the morning of June 19, two weeks after applying, I walked into an office in Sky Harbor Airport and five minutes later, walked out fully approved.

I’ll have the card before July.

Count me a fan also of the Chase Mileageplus Explorer Card which, as of June 1, reimburses for the $100 Global Entry fee.  The annual fee on the card is $95, so it already paid for itself (plus they throw in a couple United Club passes annually, also worth around $100).

I am on record as liking airline credit cards – particularly since I no longer have elite status on any carrier and see no compulsion to do so in Phoenix. When I lived in Jersey City, a few miles from EWR, I thought not flying Continental (later United) was clinically insane.  In Phoenix, I let scheduling and prices pick a carrier and flights I remember were on Southwest, American, Delta, and an Air Canada outing is coming up. Zero loyalty on my part but there’s no penalty in Phoenix for playing the field.

Between the United card and an American Airlines card, I have the perks I want from elite status. Without the hassle of scrambling for miles.

And now I also have Global Entry.

Of course what’s cool about Global Entry is that it ditches the long lines at Immigration at port of entry airports. Who doesn’t remember waiting an hour at JFK or LAX – and that’s after a long international flight.

Global Entry lets cardholders use a special kiosk. Swipe the card, offer your fingerprints, complete a Customs declaration and off you go. What had sometimes been an hour at some airports is sliced to a few minutes.

Literally dozens of airports are equipped to handle Global Entry.  I don’t see any that I have used domestically in the last 10 years as entry points from international trips that aren’t on the list.

Is the in-person interview invasive? Nope. I produced my Passport, the agent asked why I wanted Global Entry (I have an international trip coming up and Global Entry is free on a credit card), she said great. She snapped my photo, I offered my fingerprints and that was about that. I don’t think it took more than 5 minutes.

Also, I was there early for the interview. An agent came out, called a few names of people who weren’t there, turned to me and asked if I  had an appointment. When I said yes, he ushered me in – and I was out of Sky Harbor before my scheduled interview time.

There also now are many interview locations.  When I signed up for TSA Pre some years ago I did so because Global Entry wasn’t doing interviews at Sky Harbor. That changed about a year ago and that’s when I began to want it.

There’s also a new Global Entry on Arrival option that allows those with preliminary approval to complete the process when arriving from an international trip. This is available at a long list of airports.

The Chase United reimbursement pushed me over the finish line.

Bottomline: just about all the negatives I had heard about Global Entry – long waits, invasive interviews, not enough airports – just are no longer true.

It also now smoothly substitutes for TSA PreCheck.  If you will travel at all internationally, Global Entry is the way to go.

That’s all the truer because lots of companies will reimburse traveling employees for Global Entry – I’ve heard from many employees that they get their boss to cover the fee.

Plus, an expanding list of credit cards reimburse the Global Entry fee if your employer is a skinflint.  

Lines at airports just aren’t likely to get shorter. The legal way to reduce the waits is with Global Entry (and TSA Pre).

That makes it a must buy.

Is This the End of Checking Accounts?


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


Jaw dropping numbers from economist Michael Moebs and his consulting firm Moebs Services suggest that the end is coming, fast indeed, for the traditional checking (aka share draft) account.  In 2011 there were around 700 million checking accounts, per data from NCUA, FDIC and the Federal Reserve.

Guess how many there are now?

According to Moebs the number in 2017 had fallen to 600 million – that’s a 12% drop.  

Moebs added that it amounts to a drop of 2.2% per year.

A paradox is that, as the number of checking accounts fall, the balances have risen – in fact they have more than doubled since 2010 when they totaled $0.945 trillion. In 2017 they reached $2.110 trillion.

What’s going on here?

The answer matters because most credit union executives see the share draft account as the gateway for new members.

But if potential new members don’t want a share draft account that may be exactly the wrong sales pitch.

And is there money to be made on checking accounts anyway?

Balances, by the way, are climbing, said Moebs, because consumers feel significant uncertainty today and they want cash equivalents.  

Here’s another curious number.  Moebs told CU Today that credit unions in fact have gained 18.7% growth in numbers of share draft accounts since 2011.  As banks have lost checking accounts, credit unions have gained. Cause for celebration?

Not so fast.  

For starters, fintechs and non banks, from WalMart to Amazon, are galloping into many, many more checking-type relationships with consumers.  Said Moebs in its press statement: “The number of depository accounts is declining from competition with fintech firms such as Walmart, Starbucks, and Apple.”  

Moebs added that non banks now have about 12.4% of the checking market. And they are jubilant that they are lowering their interchange fees in the process.  To them, this is more about attacking interchange than it is an effort to make a profit on depository accounts.

Big banks, meantime, are consciously, actively shedding many checking accounts.  They will deny that they don’t want that business. But they don’t. Charging $10 to $15 in monthly fees is as good as giving a nudge to the exit door and many consumers are taking the hint.

Why don’t banks want that business? Moebs elaborated: “Depositories are shedding mostly single service households with free checking accounts with low balances and high transactions in favor of relationship checking accounts. Relationship checking is where there are two or more services with one consumer or business relationship.”

Remember that. The enemy of most credit unions isn’t Chase or Bank of America. Increasingly it is non banks.

Bottomline: well run banks are concluding that they can’t make enough money to be bothered when it comes to low balance checking accounts and consumers with no other relationships. When the consumer has a car loan, or a credit card (even better one with a balance), suddenly the path to profits is plain.

But a solitary, low balance checking account is not a pot of gold for financial institutions.

Non banks have other ways of making money from checking accounts – and they’ll take as many accounts as they can.

Meantime, most credit unions offer free checking (just about no big banks do).  According to Bankrate 82% of large credit unions offer free checking.  Probably similar numbers are found in smaller institutions.

Is that good business?

Just maybe it can be. It also directly ties into the credit union history of providing financial services to those who had been ignored by banks.

But – obviously – credit unions need to doubledown on a hunt for ways to make share draft accounts good for the institution.

And that will involve marketing more services to members. Smartly. Digitally.

Moebs also suggested that institutions need to focus on greater operational efficiencies in managing share draft accounts, to lower costs.  

Maybe in fact there is money to made – and good to be done – servicing accounts that the banks just don’t want.

But credit unions will have to work hard at this.

Because if it were easy to make money from these accounts, the big banks would not be showing them the door.

What’s your plan? How will you make these members good for the credit union?

Those are questions that now need answering.