How Safe Is Your Personal Data at Your Favorite Hotel?


By Robert McGarvey


All of us are atwitter about perceived loss of privacy when it comes to the acres of our thoughts, photos, outbursts that we have posted to Facebook and which, apparently, could be harvested by third party buyers.  

But just maybe business travelers have a much bigger worry that should consume them: the safety of their personal data that is in the hands of the hotels where we sleep.

“Bigger?” Yes, definitely.

And that is not to minimize the size of the Facebook mess.  If you want to see how to check what data Facebook has on you – just about everything you’ve done since you signed up – and with whom it has shared much of it – just about anything with a checkbook – read Brian Chen’s NYTimes piece on this.  It’s quite easy to check and, in my case, I got my file from Facebook literally a few minutes after requesting it.  I’m not a terribly prolific Facebooker – your mileage may vary. Did I see anything that made me sick? Nope, but I have always been prudent about what I posted to Facebook, mainly because I understood that the business model of the free Internet services is to harvest user data and sell it to marketers and fellow travelers.  That is baked in. I am not sure there is a way around it. (Read my 2000 interview in MIT’s Technology Review with Google’s founders.)

Back to your hotel worry. Hotel lawyer Jim Butler wrote this: “Protecting guests’ information (and employees’ information) from hackers is one of the biggest business challenges faced by hotel owners today. ”

Hotel breaches have been epidemic in recent years.  Here are many accounts.  

Traditionally the focus have been on theft by hackers of information involving credit and debit cards used at hotels – and bars, restaurants and gift shops have been notoriously porous, so have loyalty programs – but what if the bigger concern is, well, your private info?

You check into the hotel.  You watch four hours of porn (maybe there’s a Stormy Daniels festival?). Drain the minibar’s Scotch.  Get in a loud, verbal argument with security over the volume of your TV. Maybe you go full gonzo and you use the in-room phone call up a local escort service for a little company.

Okay, that’s not you, nor me, but I have known business travelers who have done pretty much all of the above.

Here’s the rub: a good hotelier gets good by noting and collecting guest preferences.  I have a friend who told me he swore by Four Seasons because he personally dotes on very soft pillows, hates wool anything, and doesn’t like a bed covered with decorative pillows. Apparently Four Seasons noted his interests because as he traveled from city to city whatever Four Seasons he checked into knew his preferences and of course if he were forced into, say, a Ritz Carlton, they didn’t. And he grumbled accordingly.

Just how safe is that kind of data?  Could clever hackers find it?

All that kind of data is what data scientists call big data. And big data has emerged as a key to delivering us the personalized services we want without us having to ask.

Understand: credit card data falls under specific federal guidelines. It has to be handled with deliberate care.

That’s not necessarily so regarding guest preference data – big data – and a lot of it is not encrypted, not put under a meaningful lock and key.

Front Desk anywhere, in a blog post, noted: “For too long, the hotel sector has been viewed as a soft target by hackers seeking to steal guest data. While some hoteliers take guest data security seriously, there are still too many operators using inadequate technology and processes to fully protect data.”

Some hotel groups in fact promise to do a good job protecting your data. Here’s the Accor policy : “Confidentiality and security: We will ensure reasonable technical and organizational measures are in place to protect your personal data against alteration or accidental or unlawful loss, or unauthorized use, disclosure or access.”

Word of caution: ask at the hotels where you stay what the policies regarding guest preference data storage.  Be clear: we are not talking about credit cards. We’re talking about bedding and the many other little things that when they are done our way make a hotel stay much more comfortable.

The EU, incidentally, has a get tough attitude about data privacy.  Many companies that do business in Europe say they have brought those policies here.  And maybe some actually have.

If you have doubts about your data, ask and keep asking.

Personally, I want hotels where I stay often to remember me and to provide my preferences unasked. That’s what great hoteliers have always done and today’s big data tools make it easier to collect and share the random bits of information that shape who we are as a hotel guest.

I am all for that, when the data are shared within the hotels where I frequently bunk.

I just don’t want hackers to know what kind of pillows I like. 

Would you?


Mortgage Business at Risk in the Digital Age


By Robert McGarvey

For Credit Union 2.0


Put the new Bank of America 2018 Homebuyers Insight Report high on your reading pile.  And you may find yourself reading it as a contemporary horror story. That’s because the central message of the report is that today technology has become inextricably intertwined with the homebuying process.

The question for a lot of credit unions has to be: can we continue to hold onto any mortgage business?

Steven Boland, head of consumer lending at Bank of America, wrote in the report: “Perhaps the biggest takeaway [in this report] is that NextGen technologies are here today, and their influence will continue to grow. Many buyers report they are already comfortable using technology throughout their homebuying journey, with room for evolution. Over the next decade, many even predict open houses will only be done through virtual reality.”

The future is coming, ready or not.

Credit unions have been gobbling up marketshare in mortgage origination.  Will that last?

In 2005 credit unions had about 1.9% of mortgages.  In 2014 that had grown to 8.3% according to CUNA.

But in recent years the headline in the mortgage business has been the rocketing growth of non banks such as Quicken which now has a bigger share than Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Non banks in fact now grab five of the top 10 spots in mortgage origination. And Quicken Loans is in 1st place.

What is going on is found in the B of A homebuying report and that is why it is critical reading for credit unions that want to continue to stake a role in first mortgage residential originations.

A number that jumps off the page: 32% of us told B of A we are comfortable applying for a mortgage online.  

Just 20% of us like online dating.  Only 37% are comfortable shopping for groceries online.  

Think on that. Almost as many who are comfortable buying kibble and chickpeas online are comfortable with applying for a mortgage online.

The majority – 52% – of those who are comfortable with applying for a mortgage online are or already have done.

Personally I got a mortgage, via USAA, almost entirely online in 2013. In 2004 I did similar with Countrywide.  The tools exist, they work, and at least to me the online process is more comfortable and faster than doing it in a bank or credit union office.  A bonus is that at home I have all the necessary paperwork on hand. I honestly cannot imagine going through a mortgage application at a remote office.

And more of us are coming to think similarly.

The data goes on.  According to B of A, “92 percent agree that technology makes them feel more in control of their financial decisions. They also see technology playing a role during every stage of the homebuying journey.”

One interesting data point from B of A: 4% of us say we’d make a home purchase offer based only upon an online review of the property.

Surprised it’s that many? I’m surprised it’s that few. In 2004 I sold a home in Tucson to a buyer in Hawaii who had seen the house only online. She made a full price offer.  She did want a contingency where she could pull out at closing if the house had been presented deceptively. I knew it hadn’t been, I consented, and at closing she did the deal.

Expect more changes. According to B of A, in the next 10 years 55% of us expect the mortgage process to be paperless.   I’m surprised that isn’t 90%.

53% expect the process can be completed within a few days.  Note: some lenders already promise same day approvals and that will become the new norm. Some promise approval in minutes.  

6% of us expect appraisals to be done by drones in the next 10 years.  Count me in the 6%, at least for production houses and condos. Already many appraisals are drive-bys.  A drone is just an extension of that trend.

What’s the lesson to learn from these many data points? The main one is: go digital. Make sure your credit union has an online application process that works. Really. Honestly. Ideally, both in a mobile app and online – but definitely online.

Lack of a good online mortgage app is becoming a deal breaker for many.

How good is yours? Get a half dozen friends – not credit union employees – to go through the online process. Gather their feedback. Did any quit in exasperation?  How many made it to the finish line? How long did it take them. (And do cancel out all the apps before the process moves to the next stages or you will lose friends.)

Don’t be shocked if there are loud grumbles about your online mortgage processes.  That may be the credit union norm. But it’s not good enough. Not today. Definitely not tomorrow.

We are coming to a time, very soon, when most mortgage applicants will expect to do this online, just as the vast majority of credit card customers expect.

That is tomorrow’s reality.  Get ready for it today.


Can You Om Your Way to Airplane Comfort?


by Robert McGarvey


Can you om your way to happiness at 30,000 feet? Or at least to a state of heightened comfort?

That is the question that popped into my mind when I saw a story in Well + Good headlined, “Finally Airplanes Are Doing Something to Make Flying Less Stressful.”  The story’s pitch: airlines are taking steps to, well, make flying less stressful.

Are they giving us more pitch in coach? Making seats wider? Filling fewer seats? Pouring decent and free drinks? Serving edible – real – food?

None of the above.  Apparently – and Well + Good cites a NYTimes piece as backup – airlines led by United and JetBlue now are offering free access during flights to the popular meditation app Headspace.

Headspace is an entirely sincere meditation app company that has won substantial success as a paid app.  It’s gotten acres of press.  The basic plan is a monthly subscription ($12.99/month, or $7.99/month on an annual subscription) and lots of people praise it.

I’m not putting Headspace down.

I’m not putting meditation down.  I’ve personally put in hundreds of hours meditating at Shambhala’s Chelsea space and I have pointed a number of friends there.

No, I am not a meditation basher.

But when I read that United Airlines – that United, of Dr. Dao infamy and the recent death of a little dog — thinks that if we meditate we may be more tolerant of the airline’s gaffes, well, no.  Count me out.

Other airlines also are piling onto meditation, reported Well + Good. BA, apparently, has an inflight entertainment channel that offers meditations.  Swiss Air and Cathay also have offerings.

Let me inject some skepticism. As a veteran of many hours on the cushions at Shambhala I can assure you that – even with excellent in-person instructors leading small programs – it takes a lot of practice to begin to get the hang of meditating.

How does it go wrong? Let me count the ways. The essential issue is that to successfully meditate one must still the mind – in Shambhala’s case this revolves around a focus on the breath – and that just is not easy for a beginner.

It is especially not easy in a stressful situation and flying in today’s crowded coach, with grumpy passengers and not enough space, is a prescription for a stressful situation.

Go ahead, try to hold focus for 10 minutes. You probably can’t. If you get to five when you are beginning, kudos to you. You’re a natural.

Longtime meditators, many of them, have trouble going beyond 20 minute sessions.

How long is that flight, by the way?

Meantime, I’m looking at a 2015 article in Fortune that said “The average seat pitch, a rough measure of legroom, has dropped from 35 inches before airline deregulation in the 1970s to about 31 inches today. The average width of an airline seat has shriveled from 18 inches to about 16 ½.”

Pitch on some airlines has fallen to as little as 28″.

You think meditation will help you with that?

In India, there are holy men called sadhus who are said to be able to meditate for years. Some even master lying on a literal bed of nails (photos here). I suppose that being able to like a bed of nails might be a good prerequisite for a flyer in 2018 coach.

But is that a reason to take up meditation?

Personally, I really, really dislike seeing wonderfully good things – and meditation is one of them – co-opted by companies that deploy them in what looks to me like an attempt to get us to accept unpleasant accommodations.

“Stop your whining and meditate!” That is the only way I can interpret what some airlines seem to be practicing. It certainly is cheaper to shovel a meditation app our way than to actually address the deplorable conditions in coach.

Incidentally, there are many dozens of meditation apps – some free – in both Google Play and the Apple App Store.  Download a few, try them out, make it a DIY project. You don’t need an airline’s nudge.

Here’s a free YouTube video where Shambhala founder Chogyam Trungpa teaches meditation.

Here’s a short how-to write up by Trungpa.

You just may find meditation is exactly the thing for our age of stresses.

As for the matter at hand, can I personally attest that my hours of meditation study have made me a happier flyer?  I cannot.

But an unexpected upgrade to business class still works magic on my mood.


What Makes a Credit Union a Success?


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0

Do you believe Fox Communities Credit Union in Appleton, WI is the nation’s best performing credit union?

S&P Global Market Intelligence does and therein lies the seeds of a fierce debate.

I am not pointing a mocking finger at Fox Communities. No doubt it is a fine institution.

I do have questions about the how of the S&P ratings.

“Their metrics make no sense,” a longtime credit union analyst grumbled to me when he brought this story to my attention. He requested anonymity mainly because credit union people don’t like to be seen as boat rockers.

But two things – he may be absolutely right that the metrics used by S&P Global make little real world sense and just maybe, too, some aggressive boat rocking is exactly what the credit union world needs now as it faces a universe of threats, from mega banks to non banks, all of which want to step on small FIs like so many uninvited ants at a Spring picnic.  

The way forward will be led by great, inspired, energetic credit unions whose tactics and strategies light a path for others that choose to follow.

Do any of the purported “best” credit union rankings actually show the way? Understand: there are many ways to measure a credit union’s purported health. There’s NCUA CAMEL system.  Callahan has its own metrics.  Fiserv’s RADDON has another system., a subsidiary of Lending Tree, now has released its tally of the nation’s “healthiest” banks and credit unions.

What does any of it mean?

Set aside the non public rankings – via Callahan and CAMEL.  Are the public-facing rankings worth much?

Here is how Fox Communities grabbed its top spot in the S&P tally, according to an S&P press release: “Aided by a pair of mergers, Appleton, Wis.-based Fox Communities Credit Union dethroned five-time champion Chubbuck, Idaho-based Idaho Central CU, to grab the No. 1 spot in S&P Global Market Intelligence’s annual ranking of the 50 top-performing credit unions. Last year, 81-year-old Fox Communities merged with two different Green Bay, Wis.-based credit unions — Horizon Community CU and Harbor CU — which helped the credit union post 17.6% membership growth in 2017 and 21.4% market growth.”

Mergers – that is, buying members and market share – equate to “best performing?” Really?

A lot of mergers are shotgun marriages of ailing partners.  That’s just reality.

In the rankings, the Denver Fire Department FCU is the nation’s healthiest. Runner-up is Cascade Community Credit Union in Oregon.

The “healthiest” bank, by the way, is First Commercial in Alhambra, CA and, nope, I haven’t heard of it either.

In the RADDON rankings, winners are presented alphabetically. 23 credit unions – out of 500 analyzed – are cited.  I cannot say I am familiar with many of them.

All these rankings make for press releases and applause.

Does it add up to anything that matters?

Here’s the real question: what makes a credit union successful? What makes it a model for peers to study?

A handful of measures to me matter:

  • Organic assets growth
  • Organic membership growth (more members without mergers)
  • Bigger local marketshare (how does the CU stack up against local competitors)
  • Solid financials (gleaned from NCUA call reports)
  • Board quality
  • Management quality
  • Readiness for the digital battles ahead
  • Preparedness for the Millennial members of tomorrow

That list can – should – be debated. But what needs to happen is the debate. Now is the time for credit union leadership to doubledown on fostering the survival skills they will need to make it through the banking wars that loom ahead of us.

This is no time to go full out ostrich.  

The next recession – many experts now whisper about a brutal 2020 global economic turndown – will be ugly.  Who will survive? It’s coming, hard to say when, but downturns are inevitable.

Some credit unions are making all the right moves to position themselves to grow. In bad times and good. They are getting out their message that they are all the bank a consumer needs, and a better deal for the members and their communities.

Many, many others are just holding on.

Here is what the industry really needs now: a ranking of the top 10 credit unions for digital excellence, that is, excellence tomorrow and today. 

Who wants to help pick them?

Hotels Want To Upsell You – Do You Want to Buy?

by Robert McGarvey


Research via PhocusWright pinpoints what the company identifies as a major revenue opportunity for hoteliers – and what may become a major annoyance for us.

Here’s the punchy headline: A $28 Billion Opportunity for Hotels.

I shudder to think how annoying every hotel stay is about to get in an attempt to sell us all manner of ancillary services.

The model – the source of hotelier envy – is that airlines rake in billions selling us everything from beer to snacks, credit cards, and better seats.  Airline estimated ancillary revenues are above $80 billion globally – the top 10 carriers alone took in north of $28 billion in 2017, more than tenfold more than in 2007.

A flight on many carriers in coach increasingly resembles a stroll down Canal Street in Lower Manhattan.  Maybe without the counterfeit gear. But certainly with all the brazen hustle and salesmanship.

Do you want your hotel stays to be similar experiences?

PhocusWright sets the table this way: “[H]otels are increasingly turning toward the sale
of ancillary goods and services to help drive additional revenue. For hotels, the phrase ‘ancillaries’ typically refers to optional guest add-on products and services…. These may take the form of in-hotel ancillaries, such as room upgrades, food and beverage services, additional in-room amenities or spa/wellness/entertainment products offered by the property itself. Alternatively, ancillaries may also include in-destination ancillaries such as sightseeing tours, car rental, transfers or event tickets, typically provided by third parties.”

What do I want from a hotel room on a business trip? A place to sleep, a place to do some work (ideally a desk but I’m flexible – a decent chair and lighting will suffice), good WiFi, probably a lobby coffee shop (or – better still – one outside within a short walk), and that’s about it.

I have never bought spa/wellness/entertainment products from a hotel, at least never for myself.  I have never bought sightseeing tours, not on a business trip (in London, yes, on vacation).  I have never bought event tickets.  And I generally seek to avoid hotel f & b, unless I am very pressed for time.

Color me a bad candidate for upselling.

What about you?

PhocusWright, which surveyed a large number of consumers, said that in fact we are eager to buy ancillary products and services.  “A substantial potential market currently exists for both in-hotel and especially for in-destination ancillary products and services. Two types of on-property offerings – dining at the hotel and early check-in/late checkout – are the most popular services that consumers would be willing to pre-book from hotels. However, guests are also open to purchasing a diverse range of alternative, externally provided products and services, including museum/attraction tickets, sightseeing or other tours, event tickets and transportation.”

I read that and am speechless, almost.  Very, very few hotel restaurants are so busy that it requires advance booking to snag a table and what’s hard about making one’s way to the Metropolitan Museum in NY or the Heard in Phoenix? A few museums make advanced booking highly desirable – I’m thinking of the Uffizi in Rome but we simply booked ourselves online a few days before.

*If* a ticket is hard to get – think Hamilton when it was Broadway’s darling – I would gladly have tipped, generously, a concierge who could have delivered seats, but PhocusWright seems to be talking about hotels acquiring easy to come by ducats and marking them up.

Who needs that?

PhocusWright continued: “Facilitating the pre-booking of in-destination ancillary products and services clearly represents an interesting opportunity for U.S. hotels. Eighty-one percent of respondents indicated that they had participated in a bookable in-destination activity during their last trip. The most popular of these activities were day trips, excursions and sightseeing tours (42%); visiting museums, galleries or cultural attractions (30%); and outdoor activities (28%).”

Mind you, iSeatz, which sponsored the research and just a few days ago replayed it on Tnooz, insisted that “the majority of business travelers surveyed are very interested in purchasing either on-site or off-site extras. The research also identifies business traveler segments and details the preferences on when, where, and what extras business travelers are interested in buying.”


iSeatz continued in Tnooz: “many business travelers are interested in booking products such as trip cancellation insurance (45%), high-speed wi-fi (41%), parking (41%), transportation options (23%), and museum/attraction tickets (25%) at the time that they are booking their stay.”

Nah. I just don’t buy this, and I don’t see business travelers buying much on this list. Okay, I can in fact see business travelers purchasing late check out or early check in, room upgrades, and airport transfers.

But most of the upsells are just annoyances.

That’s why my hope is that hoteliers bury this report and ignore its findings.

But – shudder – I doubt they will.


The 21st Century Credit Union Welcome


By Robert McGarvey

For Credit Union 2.0

Sign up as a new member at your credit union – or pick any credit union – and what happens?

Ask yourself a sharper question: what doesn’t happen?  Think hard on that because the future of this new member relationship hangs in the balance.

Amy Downs, CEO at Allegiance Credit Union, a $260 million institution headquartered in Oklahoma City, has been thinking hard on these very questions and she believes she has found an answer that helps bring her credit union squarely into the 21st century’s digital world.

Mind you, Amy has worked at Allegiance for many years, 30 in fact. She remembers the new member welcomes of the old days. Back then Allegiance was officed in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and it serviced federal employees.  As new workers were onboarded by human resources, they ordinarily were brought by the credit union and of course they got a warm welcome from the credit union employees, recalled Amy. Many of those new employees signed up on the spot.  And why not? They had been sincerely greeted by credit union employees – probably including the president, definitely senior managers. They knew they had a name and face they could seek out down the road if they had an issue they wanted to discuss.

What bank could match those human faces at the credit union?

Flashforward to nowadays and what happens when a new member joins a credit union? Increasingly that happens online. Then what? Probably there is a welcome email – and doesn’t that sound warm, friendly and inviting?


Probably, too, there is a welcome packet that arrives by US Mail – along with bunches of postcards from nearby dental offices, solicitations for donations, and maybe a past due notice on an electric bill.

Credit unions are scrambling – and many are failing – to make good, warm ties with new members. And many of those new members drift away or, even more commonly, they never put more than a few dollars into their credit union account. The bulk of their wallet is at another institution.

The future for credit unions is terrible – if things stay like this.

Matters got especially complicated at Allegiance. In 2002, the credit union got a community charter where it now serves people who live or work in the six counties around Oklahoma City.

In that transition, what was lost was that new employee introduction and that was a powerful moment that set up thousands of strong member – credit union relationships.

Amy thought on this and then she heard about an alternative.  What she now sends new members is a welcome video in which her smiling face is on camera, offering a sincere happiness that the new member brought Allegiance their business.

A couple times a week she scans the list of new members and when she recognizes a name, she makes a personal video. When she saw a husband of a close personal friend, she laughingly said in that video, “About time you listened to your wife!”

But even with the members she doesn’t know, what they see in Amy’s video is a person who is glad to meet them.

“We are losing our personal touch, all credit unions are,” said Amy.  “Everything has changed. It’s not the way it was, when we were on a first name basis with all our members. Now we have to work at it.”

When Amy heard about new member welcome videos, she wanted to know more. When she discovered the costs are nominal – she records her own, using a digital video recorder that cost $65 – and the actual time to record is a matter of minutes, she was all in.

Understand: the video is similar to what would have been an in-person meet and greet with a new member a generation ago. Amy’s videos are in the vicinity of 30 seconds. That matters because our attention spans just aren’t suited to movie-length video welcomes.

The bottomline for Amy and Allegiance: “We have to start marketing in different ways, or credit unions will be left behind.”

Use the technology that is readily available to forge stronger ties with new members. Welcome videos – absolutely – are a step in that direction.

Credit Union 2.0 has developed video solutions for new member welcomes – they in fact facilitated the work for Allegiance. For more info, here’s the contact.

Want to see Amy’s video? Click here.


Bleisure and Your Travels

By Robert McGarvey


New research from Expedia owned business travel management shop Egencia says that we like bleisure add ons to business trips – kind of, sort of, maybe.

We’ve lately been bombarded with trend reporting – paid for by hotel interests? – that has insisted that bleisure  has been cresting, especially with Millennials, and for some years I’ve wondered just how accurate this reporting is.

I’ve also wondered if any of this is at all new.

The Egencia research throws light on this.

Understand, I have long personally added leisure in connection with trips to cities that especially interested me in that moment such as New Orleans (and its long recovery from Katrina) and Chicago (where I made a tour of deep dish pie purveyors and grew to like them, but not as alternatives to thin crust pie, just as something different) and Washington DC (which I have liked as a town since I lived there 45 years ago).

I also strongly believe that a little “bleisure” is just the right touch to just about every business trip. See below. But what I’m talking about doesn’t involve extending stays and adding room nights.

That’s from where I sit. What’s the actual fact?

Egencia waded into this to find the statistical realities.  It surveyed 9000 business travelers. And it has some real insights into bleisure.

One finding resonated with my experiences: “Destination location is by far the biggest factor in determining whether or not to take a bleisure trip, with 30 percent of North America business travelers prioritizing location.”

A fun location, the company said, is the #1 reason to extend a business trip.

Agreed. There are towns I have been to a lot on business and have never spent a second more. Las Vegas, for instance.  Houston is another example.  I’ve traveled to both, a lot, in the past decade and like them fine but haven’t seen any reason to prolong the trip.

My point: bleisure always has to be seen as a contextual choice.

Egencia has still other, rich data. A key finding: “Twenty percent of business travelers have foregone adding leisure portions to their trips because of how it may look to their employer. ”

That is, will your bosses think you’re a slacker if you add on a few days to a Phoenix trip to enjoy spa treatments at some of the country’s best?  If you think your boss will see you as a mooch, you’ll go straight home, suggested Egencia.

Egencia offered a qualifier: “Proximity to the weekend may minimize that perception, with nearly one-quarter of respondents saying this impacts their decision.”  Sure. When a meeting ends Friday midday – quite common with many conferences (although most attendees evacuate Thursday evening, in my experience) – what’s the harm in extending and returning home Sunday night?

When the meeting is a Tuesday-Wednesday affair, we have problems.

Another issue in my experience – not explored in the Egencia data – is the role of an at home spouse or partner. Do you really want to go out on the town in the French Quarter while your partner sits at home watching PBS re-runs?

Proximity to family, by the way, was cited as important by 16% of Egencia respondents in making bleisure stay decisions.

Either way, we are doing a lot of bleisure, said Egencia: “68 percent [of respondents] take at least one bleisure trip per year.”

74% of us are planning or considering a bleisure trip in the next six months, said Egencia.

20% made adding in bleisure a resolution for the year.

Is this a generational thing? Naw. The reality is that Millennials, increasingly, carry a bigger share of the business travel can. But that age group has done so, certainly since the 1970s.  Nothing has changed. Baby Boomers had such decisions to make in the 1970s and 1980s, it’s just that the word “bleisure” didn’t exist.

The choices did

Last advice which is my own bleisure prescription: always build in at least one personally important thing on every business trip. That can be a muffuletta at Central Grocery, a visit to the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, a walk through Central Park in Manhattan, a noon Mass at St. Mary’s Basilica in downtown in Phoenix – whatever catches your interest.  I have not always done that (let me count the trips to Las Vegas) and I regret at least some of those missed opportunities (not so much involving Las Vegas).

But I firmly believe that doing one personally important thing on every business trip makes those trips that much more satisfying. It doesn’t require adding on a weekend, just making a half hour for a noon Mass or a similar amount of time for some gumbo and a beer at Emeril’s.  And you don’t need a poll to know this is the right thing to do to add a dash of pleasure your life.




The 50 Most Convenient Credit Unions


By Robert McGarvey


For Credit Union 2.0


Did your credit union make the 50 most convenient list?  Stop wondering, click to see the MagnifyMoney ranking.

What this ranking is about is how easy it is for a member to access the services he/she wants, when he wants them, and so it looks at both the analog and digital worlds, branches and mobile apps, among other touchpoints.

Understand a couple things about the ranking: it ranks only the 50 biggest credit unions and, according to the data, the top rated credit union notched 90 points out of a possible 100. The lowest rated pulled down only 46.6 points.

That represents a huge spread.  The #1 credit union in this convenience scorecard – Alliant – literally grabbed twice as many points as the lowest scorer, Mountain America.

There may well be many more credit unions, outside the biggest 50, that also outscore Mountain America.

So what exactly is getting scored?  MagnifyMoney looked at 5 fields: opening hours (more means more points); how many ATMs; telephone service hours; mobile app (how satisfied are users); and data portability (do accounts sync with Quicken, etc.)?

A complaint about that group of five is that different members want very different touchpoints. I couldn’t care less about branch hours because I live around 2500 miles from the nearest branch at my chief credit union.  I care only about digital access. But I have relatives who care only about branches and phone services. So it makes sense that MagnifyMoney sifts different channels.

It also breaks out top 10 scores in each category.  Here, for instance, are the top five scorers for mobile app:  Eastman Credit Union; ESL Federal Credit Union; Redstone Federal Credit Union; SEFCU; Wright-Patt Credit Union.

Here are the credit unions with the best surcharge-free ATM coverage: Alliant Federal Credit Union; Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union; Northwest Federal Credit Union; OnPoint Community Credit Union; Suncoast Federal Credit Union; Wings Financial Credit Union and Wright-Patt Credit Union.

As for longest hours, the winner is Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, with 59.9 hours per week.

You want 24/7 access? MagnifyMoney found a handful of top 50 credit unions that in fact offer exactly that via phone: Alaska USA Federal Credit Union

  • Alliant Credit Union
  • BECU
  • Delta Community Credit Union
  • First Technology Federal Credit Union
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Redwood Credit Union
  • Security Service Federal Credit Union

How did credit unions do as a whole? MagnifyMoney co-founder Brian Karimzad said that generally credit unions are not competitive with big banks on branch opening hours and telephone service hours. But, in the other categories, credit unions do very well.  Shared ATM networks – via CO-OP and CuLiance, for instance – give participants ATM networks numbering in the many thousands and those are numbers that stand tall against the ATM fleets of the biggest banks (more than 15,000 each at Chase and Bank of America; CuLiance claims more than 75,000 surcharge-free ATMs in its network).

As for how credit unions fare on convenience against other credit unions Karimzad stressed that there are “wide disparities.”  But the key is providing what matters to this member. A generic score is good to know but where the pedal hits this metal is in measuring how convenient the credit union is to this member.

Karimzad, incidentally, said in an interview that MagnifyMoney readers express a lot of interest in credit unions, usually because credit unions typically offer some of the best deals on loans, credit cards, and similar.  The movement already has significant recognition for its highly competitive rates.

And maybe now more consumers will understand that credit unions also can be very competitive on convenience, too. The reputation endures that credit unions keep short, banker’s hours, are laggards in technology, and are nearly impossible to join. The reality of course is very different.

And that’s why, despite the quibbles, it’s a good thing that rankings such as MagnifyMoney’s convenience scorecard get out the message that in many ways credit unions equal – maybe even beat – banks when it comes to how easy they are to use.

The more consumers that get that, the better for all credit unions.

Now, where did your credit union rank?


Realtime Banking Is Coming at You: Ready or Not


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


A new report out of Celent asks a question that just may terrify you: Are banks ready for a real time world?

You probably know the answer at your credit union.

Join the club: many – probably most – credit unions are nowhere close to embracing a real time financial services universe.

Tell me why it takes a day – sometimes several days – to move money from an account at my credit union to a payee already in the system when, truly, it simply is a matter of shifting bits and bytes?

Money can – and now should – move as fast as a text message and if a friend in India sends me an SMS via Facebook right about now it is showing up in my FB queue.

It can happen in financial services. With money. Everybody – that means you – will have to climb aboard. “Real time payments,” said Celent, “have moved beyond being an if to a when.”

Here’s a Celent observation: “Most existing payment engines have a number of challenges in delivering real-time payments. First, they are generally batch-driven, rather than single message and instant, and so simply not suitable. The second, and less obvious reason, is that they require downtime for maintenance and upgrades, something that isn’t allowed in a real-time payment solution. Many real-time payment schemes only have downtime over the year measured in seconds. Old technology simply wasn’t designed to support that.”

What Celent is prescribing is adoption of a robust payments hub that can provide the 21st century world what it wants.

“Real-time payments require all the activity in the value chain to be carried out, typically in under a second, if not quicker. If all the processes are within the hub, they are easier to manage and coordinate. But as volumes increase, this becomes more and more essential. Furthermore, functions that sit within the hub will be subject to the same design requirements in terms of availability and maintenance,” wrote the Celent author, Gareth Lodge.

Some real time functions already are in use in the United States.

Digital currencies – the report pointed in particular to Ripple – are paving the way for a shift to real time money movement.

Zelle also is a step into real time for institutions that adopt it (and some credit unions already have – such as America First Credit Union and BECU).  And Dwolla offers real time ACH transfer functionality.

Don’t necessarily expect smooth sailing for your institution into the real time universe. Exactly how – and how well – many competing real time systems will integrate with each other is not yet known.

Then, too, as Celent pointed out: “The term real-time payments perhaps hides an obvious truth: in order to make the payment real-time, everything and anything that touches the payment, including fraud checking, balance checks, and the front end initiation system have also to be real-time…24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

All of that represents a massive change in how credit unions work.  Digital banks, Celent pointed out, are architected from the word “go” to handle real time. A legacy institution has a different, very real set of challenges. Said Celent: “Real-time payments then are the vanguard of the digital bank. New banks, built from the ground up, do not need to give this a second thought, but for any other bank, the task of converting from the existing infrastructure is a huge task.”

And the news gets worse.  Said Celent: “Many banks still run core banking systems that are over a decade old. The chances are that unless it has been replaced within the last five years, it is still a batch system. This poses immediate challenges — how to update the customer balance until the next batch, overnight run.”

Institutions – and their cpre providers – are fiddling with workarounds.  But that’s the point: there will definitely have to be workarounds and they may not always be easy, elegant or even straightforward.

What to do?  The first step is recognizing that now indeed is the start of real time banking.  That, said Celent, is integral to the transformation into the digital bank that just about all now know is the future. Wrote Celent: “Banks may see the need to move to a digital bank, but they may be struggling to make the business case for investing in real-time payments. Yet there is a confluence of the digital banking trend with real-time payments, as they share many of the same attributes and indeed, that make it impossible for a digital bank to truly exist without it.”

Absolutely right. Until real-time payments are part of the package the institution just isn’t a digital bank. Period.