Five Steps to Better Wellness in Business Travel

By Robert McGarvey


Last week’s column hit us with the bad news: research in Harvard Business Review dramatically shows that because we travel, we are less healthy.  

Plainly, meeting and event organizers, hoteliers, air carriers, even our employers are letting us down.

A blunt reality: it’s up to us to seize control of our health. We can’t depend upon others to do it for us.  They haven’t and likely won’t. And we can do this ourselves. If we start by deciding to take control.

There’s much we need to do. Frequent business travelers weigh too much, have too much stress, don’t exercise and, often, are in rotten physical, mental, and emotional shape.

Note: that dire reality kicks in only for those traveling 14 or more nights a month.

For those traveling 21 or more nights per month, the medical report is much worse. Wrote study author and Columbia Univ. professor Andrew Rundle, “The odds of being obese were 92% higher for those who traveled 21 or more nights per month compared to those who traveled only one to six nights per month, and this ultra-traveling group also had higher diastolic blood pressure and lower high density lipoprotein.”

What can we do about this?

Let me tell you. About eight years ago, in the midst of a heavy travel schedule, I realized I had, uh, gained weight. A lot of weight. The fault of the travel? Maybe. Maybe not. It didn’t matter because I had to keep traveling.

I went on the Atkins Diet and in maybe six months lost around 40 pounds.

Problem solved. Temporarily. I knew I had to make permanent changes in how I travel if I wanted to keep the weight loss.

How did I do? Eight years later the weight is still off.

Here are five rules I developed to travel but do it with greater wellness and health.

Breakfast is a minefield on the road. Have you eaten at the free breakfast buffets at value priced hotels? An explosion of sugary carbs. Saturated fats. Starting the day with a heap of (frozen!) waffles drowned in artificial syrup and imitation butter is a terrible idea.

Breakfast buffets are dangerous. Remember that. Plan ahead. What will you eat?

What I do is straightforward Atkins: eat a few eggs, maybe a strip of bacon and that will fill you up.

That’s not available? When necessity dictates I’ll grab a naked bagel from a breakfast bar (an Einstein everything bagel is 280 calories). No creamcheese, no butter, no jam. Some strawberries if available. Yes, I’m counting calories but I learned that not doing so is a fast track to obesity.

Have a breakfast plan.  And eat on the road more in line with what you eat in the morning at home.  Do I eat waffles at home? Nope. The same needs to be true on the road.

Pass the carbs at lunch. At a lunch at a recent conference I watched in horror as servers brought a parade of bad carbs to the table. Boring bread. A heap of rice on the entree plate. Sheet pan cake slices.

Sure, it’s easy to tuck in out of boredom or politeness.

I don’t, not anymore.

I eat the protein and any non starchy veg and call lunch done.

Don’t eat airplane food. It doesn’t matter what class you fly. Airplane food on domestic flights can and should be skipped. It is wasted calories.

I understand: often we eat on airplanes out of boredom, it’s something to do. I have done exactly that many hundreds of time. It’s as bad for our health as the food is bad as food.

Buy a salad in the food court before boarding if you know you’ll be hungry.

That will keep you on a healthy path.

Just never eat airline food.

Don’t drink alcohol. This is a tough one for many business travelers who associate being on the road with enjoying that third martini, or maybe it’s the fourth beer.

That was my habit for years.

And then I stopped when I realized I wanted to lose weight and wanted to keep it off.

It’s not hard not to drink on the road once you get into it.

Just say, and it’s often true for me, “I’d love to but I have work I have to get out and I need a clear head. Tomorrow maybe.”

Know how you will exercise. Maintain your regular exercise regimen whether it’s 15 minutes a day or two hours. Don’t allow it to slip.

And make it activity that’s in your control. If you need a gym on the road, belong to one at home that gives you privileges where you travel.

Or take up jogging or walking where all you need is a decent pair of shoes.

That’s it. Five steps to road wellness. It’s really this simple, at least for me. Actually doing it takes daily discipline. True. But the HBR article paints the gloomy picture of what happens when we don’t.

Better health is within our control.  When we decide it is.

Ranking the Best Mobile Banking Apps: J. D. Power Speaks Up


by Robert McGarvey


Mobile banking apps are getting better and consumers like them more.  That’s the double-barreled conclusion of the recent J. D. Power study of consumer satisfaction with financial services apps.

But there remain opportunities to do apps better, said J. D. Power.

Credit unions are not scored in this survey, only the largest banks and credit card outfits are.  But there are nonetheless plenty of lessons for credit unions in the findings.

One key:

“As mobile apps rapidly become the primary interaction channel for retail bank and credit card customers, getting the formula right in terms of usability, feature sets and customer engagement has become the key to stronger advocacy and loyalty,” said Bob Neuhaus, Senior Director of Financial Services at J.D. Power, in a press statement. “While overall satisfaction is improving, one area where both banks and credit card companies continue to struggle is in making sure customers completely understand all features.”

J. D. Power came by its ranking via consumer interviews. It said that 6272 retail banking customers were surveyed. As for how it scored, the company told what it counts in ranking an app: “five factors (in order of importance): ease of navigation; appearance; clarity of information; range of services; and availability of key information.

The top ranked app is Capital One.  The lowest ranked, in 9th place, is U.S. Bank – but it came in just 39 points below the winner (888 points versus 849, on a 1000 point scale).

The study matters, said J.D. Power: “With 43% of bank customers using their mobile app in the past three months, mobile has become a critical interaction channel for the industry.”

J. D. Power also underlined that apps are improving.  The polling company said: “The overall customer satisfaction score for retail banking mobile apps is 867, up 12 points from 2017.”

Three key points get made in the J. D. Power study.

Consumer understanding of feature laden apps is important.  Said J. D. Power: “The ability to completely understand all app features has the greatest effect on overall satisfaction among banking and credit card app users. Complete customer understanding of the mobile app is associated with a 116-point improvement in overall satisfaction for banking apps.”

Be honest. If you have, say, the Capital One banking app, or Chase (which placed third), do you have any clue what all the app can do? Probably not, unless you are a certified mobile geek who enjoys playing with apps. Most consumers use a very few services and they call it a day. But that may be a mistake because their bank app may in fact do exactly the task they complain they cannot do in the app.

For credit unions, the takeaway is clear: put a priority on member education about the mobile banking app.  Drill into the many features that are built in but may not always be in plain sight.

J. D. Power underlines the need for education with this stat: “fewer than 80% of customers indicate a complete understanding of all features offered by their banking and credit card apps.” Note: that’s self grading.  I’d wager that well under 50% have a “complete understanding.”  Maybe below 25%. But that’s a fixable problem.  For the credit unions that recognize there is a problem.

Consumers who use their mobile banking app the most, like it the most.  No real surprise.  That’s probably true of just about every category of app.  Consumers who use their meditation app daily almost certainly like it better than the fellow who downloaded it six weeks ago and used it once. Of course.  But J. D. Power puts metrics around this observation: “Overall customer satisfaction is higher among customers who utilize their apps 12 or more times per month, ranging from 44-55 points, when compared with those utilizing their apps three or fewer times per month. ”

The takeaway: encourage and coax members to use their mobile banking app. And watch their satisfaction soar.

The secret of a top scoring app. J. D. Power told how to climb the satisfaction charts: “The highest-performing apps in the study have a combination of high functionality and high performance, which means they have features such as multiple security login options, built-in chat functionality and account management functions, all of which are user-friendly and well-designed.”

The takeaway: don’t be shy about building new functionality into the mobile banking app.  Just about every day a fintech announces a new mobile banking enrichment. Get serious about checking them out and how they align with your members and their needs. Then badger your mobile app provider to follow suit. That’s how to win in the mobile banking app sweepstakes: continual improvement, continual feature enrichment.  Less just won’t hack it today.




Meet Erica: Your Worst Nightmare. But Maybe Amazon and Google to Your Rescue


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


Bank of America dropped the bomb in a recent press release that announced the debut of Erica, which it described as “the first widely available AI-driven virtual assistant of its kind in financial services.”  

Not sure what B of A means by “of its kind” because Erica seems spawned from the same genes as Alexa, the Amazon voice driven assistant (with roughly 31 million units sold).  There are maybe a few dozen financial institutions live in Alexa, but I can think of many more that say they are in an Amazon approval queue.  Expect there to be nearing 100 live by year end and, yes, most will be very large institutions but already around a dozen credit unions claim to have some sort of Alexa skill.  

Even better, Amazon has announced tools that will lead to wider integration of Alexa into PCs, meaning that a standalone Alexa device will not be essential for much longer. That should spur broader adoption.

Google, meantime, has its standalone device for voice driven AI – but it also makes its Google Assistant available on smartphones and some Chromebooks.  

Bottomline:  AI is about to explode and that can’t be ignored in financial services.

Back to why B of A thinks its Erica matters: “Everything we do is based on what we hear from our clients: how they want to interact with us and how we can make their financial lives better,” said Michelle Moore, head of digital banking at Bank of America, in a press statement. “Erica delivers on this in many ways, from making it easy for clients to find what they are looking for to providing new and interactive ways to do their banking using voice, text or gesture.”

Erica, understand, has an advantage. It’s purpose built to do financial services – where Amazon, if anything, seems to see Alexa has a shopping aid and Google sees its Assistant as an adjunct to its search engine – and it is much robust than the Alexa banking skills I’ve looked at.

It is not available across the country yet but B of A said it’s getting there.

As for what Erica, which will be built into the B of A mobile banking app, can do, B of A offered this roundup: Currently, clients can ask Erica to:

  • Search for past transactions, such as checks written or shopping activity.
  • Increase awareness about credit scores.
  • Navigate the app and access key information, such as routing numbers or the closest ATM or financial center.
  • Schedule face-to-face meetings with specialists in our financial centers.
  • View bills and schedule payments.
  • Lock and unlock debit cards.
  • Transfer money between accounts or send money to friends and family with Zelle.

Nothing very exciting but – still – these tasks represent a lot of what we do in mobile banking apps. 

B of A also promised a further build out: “In the coming months, Erica will be able to tackle more complex tasks, such as:

  • Sending proactive notifications to clients about upcoming bills and payments.
  • Displaying key client spending and budgeting information and advice on ways to save.
  • Identifying ways for clients to save more.
  • Managing credit and debit cards to help notify clients of card changes.
  • Showing upcoming subscription charges and monitoring transaction history and changes.”

Assume there will be a broad marketing/advertising blitz to support Erica, much as we are seeing an avalanche of ads for Zelle, and that means members will be asking: when can we get Erica?

The bad news is that they can’t.  Unless they switch financial institutions.

For credit unions the takeaway is this: expect spiking interest in AI powered banking.  So get busy building, or buying, your own AI skills, probably Alexa, possibly Google powered and that way stay swinging in the ring.

This is a fight where credit unions can hold their own because the biggest fintechs – Google and Amazon – are standing by ready and eager to help.

Meantime, MasterCard has said it wants to build its payment tech into the Amazon and Google tools which means easy paying with voice is coming fast.

You may not be able to beat B of A on your own.

But with Amazon and Google as your best buddies you sure have an excellent chance.


Is Business Travel Killing You?


by Robert McGarvey


An article in Harvard Business Review has terrifying news for you: Your travel may be killing you. Literally.

Hotels and event organizers are failing us and, in fact, may be hastening our demise. Ditto our employers.

That’s how grim the HBR data is.

Author Andrew Rundle, an associate professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia, wrote: “we found a strong correlation between the frequency of business travel and a wide range of physical and behavioral health risks. Compared to those who spent one to six nights a month away from home for business travel, those who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had significantly higher body mass index scores and were significantly more likely to report the following: poor self-rated health; clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence; no physical activity or exercise; smoking; and trouble sleeping. The odds of being obese were 92% higher for those who traveled 21 or more nights per month compared to those who traveled only one to six nights per month, and this ultra-traveling group also had higher diastolic blood pressure and lower high density lipoprotein (the good cholesterol).”

Read that again. Rundle is saying that heavy business travelers – 14 or more nights away from home monthly – weigh too much, self-diagnose anxiety, and don’t exercise. Only 12% of employees screened fall into this bucket of frequent travel.

Hardcore road warriors – with 21+ nights monthly on the road – are probably obese and have strong signs of cardiovascular disease.


Rundle arrived at that conclusion by crunching mountains of de-identified data provided by EHE, which offers preventative exams and wellness screening for tens of thousands of US corporate employees.  Data on frequency of business travel is part of the EHE screening exam.

Rundle’s results make sense.  No, I did not expect the picture to be this bad. But I know when I am traveling my daily walk is usually forgotten (Las Vegas is an exception – cavernous meeting spaces actually create lots of walking in Sin City), breakfast is a carb fest (a bagel grabbed from a coffee break at the meeting), lunch is whatever is on the venue (again, usually, lots of carbs), and dinner, for me, often is a sandwich over my keyboard in my hotel room as I write up the day’s information. It’s a hectic schedule. Too much coffee, too many carbs, little or no exercise, too few fresh veg, a radical departure from my at home routine.

Rundle pointed to studies of World Bank employees that found similar bad health among heavy travelers.  One study found that “Overall, rates of insurance claims were 80% higher for men and 18% higher for women travellers than their non-travelling counterparts.”

A second World Bank study found that 75% of road warriors reported “high or very high” stress related to business travel.

What can be done about this? Rundle urged more employer education for frequent travelers aimed at getting out the message about good food choices and good health practices.  To me that sounds good but – really – do you learn anything you don’t know in wellness sessions? Our problem isn’t our ignorance, it’s our lack of backbone when we travel and our apparently chronic willingness to discard our habits of healthy eating and exercise when at home for a life of no exercise and burgers and fries and a couple beers when on the road.  We know what we should eat. We just don’t care.  Me too.

Rundle also pointed to hotel gyms as a possible savior. He wrote: “One fairly simple thing employers can do is to ensure that their preferred accommodations have well-equipped gyms.”  He added: “hotel gyms can be minimalist and a bit depressing, but an alliance of sorts between employers and business hotel chains could work together to improve the hotel gym experience.”

I am no fan of hotel gyms – I never use them –  but maybe I should re-think that and, definitely, I should always bring walking shoes when I travel and make a point to get out for five or six miles daily.

But I believe that hotels and meeting venues that see the HBR study have got to take the findings seriously and that means really upping the health/wellness choices for road warriors and also upgrading exercise options to make them appealing to frequent travelers.

More advice from Rundle is always ask, is this trip necessary?  A lot of my travel now is getting replaced with video calls. Yours?

That just may be the surest way to protect our health: Travel less.




How Credit Unions Can Win the Big Data Play


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


Ask executives at the money center banks how they plan to win, against both fintechs and smaller institutions like credit unions, and they smirk as they say two words, big data.

Big data is today’s magic.  How does Amazon knows what book you want to read next, or what music you want to buy, or when you are about to run out of cat treats? Those are simple examples but the answer is big data. Amazon crunches a lot of data, in a blink of an eye, and it knows what you want, maybe before you know.

The race now is on inside financial institutions to crunch lots of data and to achieve similar predictive intimacy about their customers and members.  

Think about how many pointless marketing pitches go out: mortgage info to a member who just bought a house, car loan info to a member who just leased a new BMW, and credit card info to a member with a 500 FICO score.

Big data means never making a dumb pitch again.  

The right big data also means knowing which members are on the verge of leaving the credit union – and may even provide clues on how to keep them, perhaps even to get them more engaged.

Big banks think they have enough data to begin to make very smart, very targeted guesses about their customers. They believe they will keep more of them, keep more happy, and increase engagement.  All by mining big data.

Probably they are right.  And probably too community banks don’t have the scale of data and neither do just about all fintechs.

So the big banks already are in their victory dances.

But they don’t get one important thing: credit unions have a possible big data play that will even the field against the biggest banks.  Just maybe even let credit unions win. Often.

OnApproach, the Minnesota CUSO, is spearheading an effort – it calls it Caspian – that will give credit unions a so-called data lake that rivals that of the biggest banks.

And the Caspian Sea, by the way, has the largest surface area of any lake in the world, some 143,200 sq. miles. So the OnApproach choice of name makes perfect sense.

Add up the assets of all US credit unions and the total about equals the assets of Citibank and many times more than US Bank.

That’s serious size.

And it also is serious data and, through Caspian, the OnApproach plan is to create a data lake that lets participating credit unions collaborate to play competitively against even the biggest banks.

“Credit unions can do this, collaboration is in their nature,” said Austin Wentzlaff, an OnApproach vice president.

But what about the big data plays attempted by a number of credit unions in the past half dozen years, many of which never produced much good?  “Credit unions are not big enough to really do big data,” said Paul Ablack, OnApproach CEO. He said maybe Navy Federal has the scale but others, not really.

But credit unions have a path to victory. Ablack pointed to the credit union shared ATM network – bigger than any bank’s – and also its shared branching – bigger than all but Wells Fargo – and said that if credit unions pool their data together in the Caspian data lake, they will have information that will prepare them to compete with the biggest financial institutions.

Ablack envisions a lake populated with all the information a credit union has – and even some acquired from outside sources (such as building permit data, insurance policy data, real estate price info from Zillow, maybe auto data from an Edmund’s, etc.).  

“We see every transaction a credit union handles in the lake. Payments. Loans. Checks. Debit card. Credit scoring info. Call log info. Who is the car insurer? When is the policy up for renewal?”

Wentzlaff added that OnApproach already has tools to pull in data from five highly popular core systems and approximately 30 ancillary systems and, he said, the company does not anticipate significant issues in putting core and ancillary data into Caspian.

The list can go on because just about all data is useful in a data lake and – crucially – OnApproach has developed tools that will normalize and scrub data and make it useful in the lake.

Know this: some earlier credit union data plays failed simply because the data was not rich enough.  Ablack envisions Caspian as a data rich lake, filled with both structured data (the kind pulled from cores, Oracle databases, etc.) and unstructured data (email, video, images, data scraped from social networks, etc.).  

Remember that. Hear about a big data play and always ask: how rich will the data be? Is there a lot of unstructured data? Meager data – limited data pulled from just a single source – really won’t give the insights that are needed.

That’s why the Caspian data mix is crucial.

And when many credit unions participate, the lake gets richer and more valuable as a kind of network effect plays out.

How many credit unions does OnApproach need in Caspian to make the lake rich enough? Wentzlaff said that just adding one credit union to another will increase the value of the data but he elaborated that with maybe 20 to 30 credit unions participating, all will be big winners but increase that to 2,400 credit unions and we have a game changer.

Ablack stressed that the Caspian architecture is built to be scalable.  As more credit unions seek to join, the welcome sign will stay up and lighted.

Ablack also envisioned welcoming fintechs with specific data mining tools to offer their data analytics to credit unions in Caspian. The right tools will help credit unions make more sales. But use of the third party tools will be at the discretion of the individual credit union.

What if a credit union tries Caspian, then wants out? Their data remains their data and there will be a mechanism for a frictionless exit.

When can a credit union dive into the Caspian lake? Right now Caspian is in a proof of concept pilot involving four credit unions.  Ablack said he anticipated that Caspian will be thrown open to more credit unions in Q4 of this year.

Credit unions that want to win the war against big banks and community banks need to mark their calendar.


How Digital Are Financial Institutions Today: Celent Research

By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


Celent recently convened a panel of financial institution honchos – credit union execs included – for its eighth such session in three years to explore a fundamental question: how digital are financial institutions today.

Of course just about every FI now talks a good digital game but talk is still cheap  What are they doing to bring their institution into the digital age that increasing numbers of members demand?

Celent analyst Daniel Latimore starts the report with a cheery note: “Banks and credit unions have reason for cautious optimism. Reponses show a greater C-suite commitment to investing in digital compared to 2015. Customer preferences are increasingly driving decision making, and panelists are eager to learn more about leveraging data and analytics to serve them.”

Latimore then struck a note of realism: “There is still a long way to go, however. Few respondents consider their efforts truly outstanding.”

Indeed: how would you rate your institution’s digital transformation?  Honestly.

If you remember only one thing about this blog, or the Celent study, make it this hard hitting statement of reality:”Digital is unambiguously an imperative. A towering 88% of respondents say
digital is imperative; 12% say it’s optional.”

Getting 88% of financial executives to agree on anything is just about impossible. When 88% agree that digital is “imperative” -a forceful, direct prescription – you know a new day is dawning.

Also intriguing – especially as new data analytics plays enter the credit union marketplace – is hopes aren’t high for big data, said Celent.  “Panellists were overwhelmingly pessimistic about their analytics and automation.”

That’s understandable. Earlier credit union big data plays have been busts and that’s the charitable interpretation. But – increasingly – we see big data analytics improving our lives in many arenas (think only of Amazon which is less a retailer and more a data analytics proving ground) and we also see a well-funded stampede of money center banks into data analytics.  The message for credit unions is hop aboard this fast moving train, now, or get left behind.

And in 2018, per Celent, just 4% of participating FIs claim they see improvement in their use of analytics.

That has to change.

There also is some delusion among financial institution executives. According to Celent, when asked to grade their digital progress, none claimed excellence (and good on that!) but 50% claimed they are very good.

Most aren’t.  Not in my opinion. Most are just starting the digital journey and an increasing number are well intended and energetic, but few rise to “very good.”

That glowing self-assessment is troubling because so much work – hard and sometimes expensive – lies in front of credit unions that aspire to be alive and relevant just 10 years from now. That’s how fast change is coming and how profound the transformation will be.

Celent, by the way, understands the baked-in hesitation when it comes to innovation at financial institutions. But it also understands the cost of hesitation. Latimer wrote: “Public failures are extraordinarily painful, so it’s understandable that financial institutions are cautious about their approach to digital transformation. Nevertheless, banks and credit unions have had to accelerate their pace of innovation. Fintech has exploded, while online conglomerates like Amazon and Google rewrite consumer rules of engagement.”

Self-congratulation about mobile banking is another puzzle in the Celent findings: “2018 satisfaction with the mobile platform is generally higher than with the online platform, whereas they were roughly equivalent in 2015.”

Maybe it’s just the credit unions I use, but the mobile platforms I see are stagnant, unengaging, and feature poor.  The Chase app, in contrast, just keeps getting better and it offers more and more features.

My advice to credit unions that applaud their mobile platform is two-fold. Ask members who don’t use it why they don’t. And ask those who do how satisfied they are. The members’ voices are more telling than what executives say about their wares.

What’s the next step in the digital journey for credit unions? Very simple: double-down on digital because digital is life, it has a future.  Legacy, traditional banking not so much. As the Celent research reveals, that realization is slowly percolating in financial institutions.

But it’s up to each credit union to chart its own course. And the first step is to really make a digital commitment.

Google Assistant Wants to Book Your Travel Reservations

By Robert McGarvey


Take that, Alexa.  Amazon definitely has made a move with its voice controlled Alexa into travel – but now Google has struck back and just maybe with a  much, much bigger play.

For some time Google has sifted through your GMail and added travel reservations it finds into Google Calendar, and Google Trips.  Count me as a fan. Google saves me steps by automating this process for me.

Now Google wants more.  It has not necessarily made loud announcements. What Google does is roll out features – that its fans find – and it apparently has been busy with travel related tools.  Android Police explain what they have found Google now is doing with your travel planning: “Now it seems that these reservations are, rightfully, showing in Assistant’s settings. Whether you access them through the Google app or the Home app, you will see a new Reservations item under the list of different Account settings, right below Purchases and Payments.”

Keep in mind a few differences between Alexa and what Google is doing. To use Alexa you need to buy a device.  I have three. A tiny Alexa Dot will do. But you need an Alexa to get Amazon to help you out with travel.

With Google, the barrier to entry is minuscule.  There are free apps – Google Trips, Google Home, Google Assistant.  An Android phone helps and 55% of us have one.  (Many apps of course work in a limited mode on iPhone when it comes to purchases and that will matter in travel.)

But just a browser and a computer will do.  Then just use Google for a search.

Google also has extended its ability to actually book travel – flights, hotels, even attractions – from within Google search which most of use already.  There’s a full page of instructions about using Google search to book travel, but, as is usually so with Google, much of this is intuitive and easy to follow.

For instance: to book a flight, start with a search for flights in Google.  See a flight you want, look for a “Book on Google” button. Click it. Enter passenger details and payment info. You may also see a Select Seats button. (You can also book seats on the airline’s website.) Then click Book.

You just bought yourself an airline ticket.

For the hotel, search for the location in Google – then pick a date, input personal info, then pay (via Google Pay if you are signed up).

Google will also help with restaurant reservations. And it’s at work on artificial intelligence that will make a voice call to book a table at restaurants that don’t offer online booking – that technology supposedly will roll out to us before year end.

Google has its eye on other travel related activities such as ground transportation too.  Soon, just about every part of a trip will be bookable in Google and savable to it.

It all gets better because now Google Home can give you travel reminders. Just ask the device (small ones start at $49) – “Hey Google, when’s my next flight?”

The voice driven box will tell you, and can also tell you about hotel and restaurant bookings.

Much the same info is yours via the Google Assistant app on a smartphone, and also via Google Trips.  

What I really like about all this is the ease of access and also the redundancy of sources.  This means that, with Google, I will always be able to access my upcoming trip info.

I have been a big fan of Amazon’s Alexa for some time but have to admit that, little by little, I find myself edging into the Google universe, particularly for travel, mainly because I carry a Pixel phone and spend most of the workday in various Google apps.  

Of course what Google is doing is coaxing us into booking directly on the smartphone – and I am getting won over.  

While you’re at this, do look at Google Trips.  Create an itinerary and you are greeted with many tabs – Discounts, Food And Drink, Things To Do, Day plans.  The entire week, or longer, takes easy shape on the phone as Google serves up the information you need.

I like it.  You?


QCash Brings Payday Loans to Credit Unions


By Robert McGarvey


$30 billion annually – that’s how big Pew said the payday, pawn auto title, etc.  loan market is in America. When people need a loan, and everybody else has said no, they go to alternative lenders. That’s 10 to 12 million Americans every year.

They pay through the nose too. Up to 400% APR.  

But what if credit unions could get involved. And what if credit unions could offer more consumer friendly options.

Enter QCash, an innovative, small dollar lending platform that grew out of WSECU (Washington State Employees Credit Union) and also benefited from counsel via Filene.

Ben Morales, CEO of QCash, said that QCash in effect brings WSECU back to its roots. The first loan the credit union made, around 60 years ago, was $50 to a member to buy new tires.

That is exactly the kind of helping hand credit unions were formed to offer and, said Morales, QCash is a platform designed to help many more credit unions profitably offer small dollar loans to members, to the benefit of the member and also to the credit union.

The problem: many credit unions have abdicated small dollar loans, said Morales, leaving the market to alternative lenders.  Which often means predatory lenders.

Said Pew: “The average payday loan customer borrows $375 over five months of the year and pays $520 in fees.”

Pew added: “banks and credit unions could profitably offer that same $375 over five months for less than $100.”

Pew continued: “banks and credit unions can be profitable at double-digit APRs as long as applicable rules allow for automated origination.”

That’s exactly where QCash comes in.  What it offers is an automated platform where the loan applicant answers a very few questions and, in under 60 seconds and with just six clicks, a decision on the loan is rendered.

That speed is possible, said Morales, because the credit union already knows a lot about the member. There’s no need to ask the member questions where the answer is already known and, because QCash accesses the core, it knows plenty about the member.

That speed and simplicity is a big plus for loan applicants.  Many fear that applying for a credit union loan means a visit to a branch for a face to face but QCash puts the process online or in the mobile app. That makes it easy for the member and also eliminates much of the embarrassment potential.

About 70% of loan applications are approved, said Morales.

Add it up and QCash is a good deal for the appropriate member.

Why isn’t it offered at more institutions?

The grumbles about offering payday loans at a credit union are many. There are complaints that this isn’t what a credit union should be doing, that the borrowers will default, that it’s too expensive to process loan apps to bother with small dollar loans to imperfect borrowers, etc. etc.

QCash proves a lot of that wrong.  Last year QCash – which presently has five active credit unions involved with several more in the go-live queue – processed around 35,000 loan apps.  It has a track record. The chargeoff rate, said Morales, is around 10 to 13%. “That’s why you charge as high as 36% APR,” he said.

He added that some QCash institutions charge significantly below 36%. Nobody presently charges more.

Morales acknowledged that some in the credit union movement are squeamish about the idea of charging members 36% APR – but he pointed out that, for this member, that usually is a very good deal, much better than the alternatives that might be available.

Point is: this is helping members. Not hurting them.

Even so, not every institution involved in QCash is aggressive about marketing it, Morales acknowledged, perhaps because of some lingering concerns about being seen to offer payday loans.

That’s something the reticent institution just has to get over. Because that’s the better path for the member.

An obstacle to credit union implementation of QCash is that right now doing so requires significant inhouse technical talents and credit unions below perhaps $500 million in assets often don’t have that.

Small credit unions may also have problems in providing access to the core – frequently because the cost of needed middleware is high.

Morales said such issues represent a challenge to QCash to “perhaps adapt its product to overcome these issues.”

Point is: QCash is working on making its product readily adaptable to a growing number of credit unions. Morales said QCash hopes soon to offer QCash to credit unions without regard to size and scale.

Fees from the QCash side in implementing it run $15,000 to $20,000.

Bottomline for Morales: going after high interest, predatory lending should be a credit union differentiator – and QCash puts those targets in range.  “We can do something about this,” said Morales.

“We can make a difference for our members.”

Credit unions could rock their way up in the public consciousness and put on a good guy aura in the process of taking on predatory lenders.

He added: “The momentum is there. We just have to get more credit unions off their butts.”


What Do Your Members Want? Lessons from the FIS PACE Study


For CU2.0 


By Robert McGarvey


One word captures what today’s consumers want from financial institutions: digital.  

That’s a takeaway from the 2018 FIS PACE Study.  And FIS does not pull this punch when it identifies digital transformation as today’s number one priority. Said FIS: “Digital Transformation  – Consumers now expect the same digital capabilities – mobile deposits, transfers, account opening, digital payments, mobile wallets, etc.– from credit unions and community banks as they do from larger banks.”

Read the last bit again. FIS is saying that credit unions do not get a pass on digital because they are small. Consumers see the Chase and Bank of America ads, they say “that’s cool,” and they want it, from Zelle to realtime banking.

Many credit unions struggle to accept these realities.

The PACE report is a slap in the face.

Remember, too, PACE stands for: Performance Against Consumer Expectations.

How well do credit unions measure up against consumer expectations? FIS has the numbers.

The good news: people still love their credit unions.  Said FIS: “Overall, 82 percent of U.S. bank customers are ‘extremely satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their primary banking providers. Credit union members once again are much more satisfied, and customers from top 50 global banks are much less satisfied with their banks. Unsurprisingly, customers from large banks – top 50 or regional banks – are most unsatisfied with the fees they incur.”

In the FIS deep dive into satisfaction scores, 60% of us say we are “extremely satisfied” with credit unions.  Just 37% are same with community banks. A paltry 22% are with global banks. Credit unions score very, very high.

FIS also announced that “mobile is the main branch.”  It elaborated: “Digital Self-service is a high priority for consumers under the age of 53, so it should not be a surprise to learn that these
same consumers, from young millennials through Generation X, now use their mobile phones and tablets to interact with their primary banking providers far more than via desktop PCs, ATMs and physical bank branches.”

Note: Boomers lag in this regard but even among them, 34% of their digital contacts with an FI are via smartphone and 12% are via tablet which adds up t0 46%.  54% of Boomer digital contacts are via online banking.

Among young millennials, by contrast, 63% of digital contacts are via a smartphone. Just 2% are via tablet (and you wonder that Apple is struggling to sell iPads).  And 35% are via online banking.

FIS hammered the point home: “42 percent of consumers report that they use their bank’s mobile app more now than they did a year ago. This highlights a needed shift in strategic thinking for banking providers, especially smaller ones, as their mobile interfaces – not their physical locations or even their personnel – are now the ‘face’ of the bank.”

An oddity in the FIS data. 5% of us said that we use our credit union mobile app less than a year ago.  At global banks that number is 2%. Even at community banks it is 4%. Ask yourself: are your members using the mobile app less and if so, why? What can we do to remedy this?  Because the future of a financial institution is its mobile channel.

FIS also trotted out data that shows that we are ready for new features in digital banking, with significant numbers of us piling into p2p (look at Zelle’s rocketship trajectory), mobile wallets, virtual cards, and various other features that may have seemed the stuff of sci fi. The FIS conclusion: Add It and They Will Use It.

What’s the lesson in these data? Consumers are inclined to like – really like – a credit union. But they also expect state of the art digital from that credit union.  They want the credit union to provide a digital experience that rivals what Chase offers.

Not easy? Nope.  But more consumers – especially younger ones – are making it clear that they won’t accept less. A credit union that wants a long future had better get that message and get with upping its digital offerings.  

When you see that next Chase ad, ask yourself: is what we offer as good?

It had better be.


Why Are We Still Meeting 2008 Style?


by Robert McGarvey


Reading Meeting Planners International’s (MPI) spring 2018 Outlook a loud question echoed in my brain: why are today’s meetings essentially just retreads of meetings 2008 style, maybe even 1998 style?

So much has changed in the past decade. Steve Jobs/Apple drove the smartphone into ubiquity.  Super-fast broadband is everywhere. Video calls – often via Skype, at no cost – are business staples and that’s displacing a lot of face to face contacts.

Before just about every trip today I question if I have to do it. Can’t I accomplish the goal without the travel?

My life today is very different from what it was in 2008, especially in that I am always connected, always have high quality videos at my fingertips.

My attention span today is a lot shorter, too.  And that’s true for most of us.

Meetings I have been to don’t really get that. Sure, they pay lipservice to the concept, as does MPI, but there’s no real commitment.

They also don’t get that we are hip deep into a generational shift where a lot of meeting attendees are Millennials who are filling seats once occupied by Baby Boomers, who are retiring in droves (about 10,000 retire every day).  

And Millennials are true “digital natives,” this stuff has been part of their lives for as long as they have been on earth.

Yet meetings don’t seem to be that much different – not really.

Maybe it’s because the dirty secret about meetings – which I first heard 40 years ago when I complained to a boss about how boring the well-paid speakers were – is that nobody goes for the meeting as such.  “The real action is in the breaks, at lunch, at the 5 p.m. cocktail hour,” said my boss. “Use that time well and you’ll get whatever you need to get out of any meeting we send you to.”

Yes, that was carte blanche to skip any sessions headlined by an out work state governor or a motivational speaker, although candidly I sometimes very much like the latter.  It was also a free pass to ignore the many breakouts that supposedly dig deeper into a specific topic.

But it was an exhortation to work the halls, the meal tables, the cocktail hours. That’s where people talk one with another and, yes, I’m still in touch with people I met at conference lunches many years ago.

The MPI document proceeds in blithe ignorance of that reality.

The secret sauce that makes many meetings very special for many attendees is the stuff that in lots of ways falls out of the control of the planners. It’s the face to face, tete a tetes where attendees connect.

And the related reality that what happens on the mainstage maybe doesn’t matter that much to the satisfaction, or lack, of conference attendees.

Maybe that explains why there has been – to my eyes – very little effort to remake meetings to suit a 2018 reality.

Sure, MPI said that today’s attendees want to be “active and engaged.”  

But word of reality: publishing a meeting app and putting some little games on it does not in actual fact create meaningful engagement.  

Giving attendees a hashtag and asking them to Tweet also isn’t engagement.

MPI also said the #1 meetings trend today is “more virtual/hybrid streaming” – and that, I’ll agree, may help more people who can’t attend a meeting to absorb parts of it, at least the mainstage parts that are most likely to win a remote audience. But they will miss out on the tete a tetes and that’s the pity.

Other top trends noted by MPI include: “more interactive/hands on (23.3 percent), new experiences/more experiential (23.3 percent), more “outside the box” (23.3 percent), more apps (20 percent) and more local flair inside the venue (16.7 percent).”

All these trends are fine – but, tell me, at meetings you attend are they more than window dressing?  Sure, there will be a pass at gamification in the app, maybe there will be a “local” cocktail at an event (prickly pear margaritas in Scottsdale anyone?), possibly there will be a little push for experiences.

But I ask again: have meetings fundamentally changed in 10 years?

It’s a sclerotic industry and that is not a healthy state.

One problem, pointed out by MPI, is that organizations are increasing meeting budgets – but not even enough to keep pace with inflation.   The estimated increase in budget for next year is up 1.8%, and there just is no way that will cover increases in airfares, hotel fees, and the rest.  Organizations need to be spending more money – on technology in particular – but they are pulling their purse strings tighter.

That’s a big fail.

But maybe it’s just the reality that when it comes to meetings, companies get what they pay for…and nothing more.

Just maybe.