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.

Are Credit Unions Merging the Movement Out of Existence?


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


The headline in American Banker screams: “Credit unions are bulking up via M&A — and banks are nervous.”

The story continued: “Since March…there have been three deals in which the credit union being acquired had more than $300 million in assets. And a New York investment banker said he is working on a fourth deal — with even more possibly on the way.

“Those deals threaten to create bigger, and more formidable, credit unions to compete against banks.”

The thesis, plainly, is that while mergers once were the exclusive province of generally small, dying credit unions, suddenly bigger ones are getting the urge to combine – and bankers should be trembling in their boots.

Word of caution: remember the source of this contention.  American Banker.  

Word of advice: file all this under fake news.

That’s a label I never thought I’d use but it just may fit in this instance.

According to American Banker, “nearly 670 credit union mergers took place between 2015 and 2017.”

That compares to 774 bank mergers in the same period, per American Banker.

The article – naturally – quotes a chorus of banking voices all of whom warn that the big bad credit unions are rushing to combine in order to better to gobble down the bankers’ cheese.  

The narrative is compelling. But fundamentally flawed.  

What is fact is that in the vast majority of cases, credit unions merge because one is grievously injured and there are pressures on a stronger credit union to do the right thing and take over the weakling.

Very occasionally, the weak institutions are large – think taxi medallions – but, generally, the weak are small, sub $100 million in assets and they find themselves unable to compete in technology and services and compliance with complex regulations increasingly try the talents and resources of tiny credit unions.

Meantime, numbers out of CUNA Mutual, by way of NCUA, in fact show that the number of mergers fell in 2017.  

And, yep, most mergers involve tiny credit unions. In February, said NCUA, there were 9 mergers and the average asset size was $13 million.

Personally I believe many more credit unions will close (typically by merging out of existence) in the next 10 years. Possibly  as many as 2000, roughly one-third of today’s 5700+. But most will be small. A few larger institutions will shutter due to grievously bad operational decisions (such as an over concentration in taxi medallion loans) but they will be the exception.

Also exceptional – extremely – will be mergers of two large, healthy credit unions.

On paper merging Navy and PenFed  might make a kind of sense – to better compete with USAA and the money center banks – but I believe my chances of winning PowerBall Friday night are significantly better than the odds of that merger occurring.

Five years ago in Credit Union Times, I wrote a story headlined: “Mergers Will Continue to Cull the CU Herd.”

Not much has changed since then, except many hundreds of credit unions have merged out of existence since 2013.  

The article picked a number – $100 million – as a kind of arbitrary benchmark for the size a credit union needed in order to survive the turbulence that lay ahead.  But it cited other experts touting bigger numbers, as much as $500 million in assets.

The reality is that there is no known minimum size. A lot depends upon the ingenuity of the top managers, the energy of the line staff, and the passion of the FOM. If enough members want their small credit union to live, it will. Simple as that.

When they don’t, it won’t.

But it certainly is sheer rubbish to insist that there is a wave of mergers of big, healthy credit unions and this is threatening the survival of community banks.

What’s threatening their survival is the same as what’s threatening many mid sized and larger credit unions: the growing strength of money center banks and, especially, the rise of non banks.

It’s idiocy for bankers to worry about credit union mergers.  Worry about Quicken Loans is my advice. Or any of many non bank car loans companies. Or any of many non bank p2p players.  

Really. Just plain idiocy to gnash teeth about credit union mergers threatening banks.

But it makes good fake news headlines, doesn’t it?


A Nation of Wimps? The State of Corporate Travel Policies


By Robert McGarvey


When the travel masters at your organization issue pages of rules and restrictions is your only question: how high should I jump?

Now we know the answer. American Express has dumped piles of data on us in its latest Traveler 360, a 20+  page overview of who we are, what we care about, and, yes, how compliant we are with corporate policies.

What shocks me in the Amex data is how docile we are.  We really, really are.

Me, too. I’m generally compliant, except when the policies are asinine – like one company that capped hotel rates at $300/night and the closest I could find in Manhattan during UN General Assembly week was north of $400. I just ignored that pennypinching, booked the pricier hotel, and don’t recall hearing boo in protest.

But on the big stuff – such as flying coach (but never basic economy) – I am generally on board.

71% of US travelers, by the way, told Amex their company has a business travel policy.  That is pretty much true around the globe. In India, 90% say their company does. In German, 67% do.  

Where big differences arise is in employee understanding of the policy. In France, 59% say their company does not have a clear policy on travel and expense reporting.  In Germany it’s 58%. In the UK it’s 53%,

Guess what it is in the US and know you will almost certainly be wrong.

It’s a piddly 21% who say their company policy is not clear.

Why is the US so different? Amex takes a stab at an explanation: “One potential explanation is necessity, as 3 out of 4 of US travelers also report that their companies strictly enforce said policies.”

The US also is a laggard in the number of travelers who admit to “going rogue” in business travel. Just 40% of us admit to doing so.  In Australia it’s 52%. Stunningly, in Germany, a country well known for its rules compliance, 67% say they go rogue.

The usual reason for ignoring organizational policies: to stay closer to an event or meeting. And, yeah, I’ve challenged hotel bookings on the grounds of inconvenience and can’t recall a time when the organization didn’t let me stay where I chose.  (It probably helps that I have scant interest in hotel loyalty programs and can’t be accused of staying at a preferred place just to accumulate points.)  

Amex also said that we ignore policy when booking a hotel to stay in a safer location, and that is especially true of Americans and French.

Have you ever done that? I did it once when I was booked into the Europa Hotel in Belfast – known during the  “troubles” as the world’s most bombed hotel – and I declined.  I booked myself into the family owned Wellington Park Hotel – never bombed and my personal go-to on visits to Belfast in the violent years. Oddly enough, the event organizer followed up and rebooked some attendees into the Wellington Park as well.  

We in the US differ from our international compatriots on a number of reasons for booking hotels out of policy.  Just 49% of us will do so to have better business lounge access. 87% of Brits will do it.

Just 52% of us say we book out of policy because we prefer the hotels.  84% of Brits will do it.

55% of us say we will fly another airline – not in the policy – because we like it better.  87% of Brits say they will ignore policy to book a preferred carrier.

71% of us say will book in a hotel not in the policy because it’s better quality.  90% of Brits will.

What can organizations do to get more compliance with travel policies? Amex said: “Since having a strict policy enforcement approach does not work for all countries or companies, offering incentives could be a way to change traveler behavior. Travelers responded favorably to things like having a percentage of the money they saved by booking within policy put into their paycheck and receiving bonus vacation days or paid time off.”

Amex also insisted: “The more travelers understand their company travel policy and the benefits that are in it for them, the more they will comply.”

If you were bribed, would you be even more compliant?  Personally I don’t think it would make a whit of difference to me.  But exactly what bribe is on offer?


The Reinvention of CO-OP: News from Think18


By Robert McGarvey


For CU2.0


One message came through loudly at the recent CO-OP Think18 conference in Phoenix: this is not your father’s CO-OP.

“We are in a revolution inside CO-OP,” said Todd Clark, who has logged two years as CEO of the nation’s largest CUSO.  

“We are sprinting towards change.  We are driving this hard,” said Samantha Paxson, CO-OP’s chief marketing and experience officer.

“We are positioning CO-OP to move forward,” agreed Nick Calcanes, CO-OP’s chief information officer who just may be the busiest CO-OP executive because so much of what is planned is in the digital arena, an area where CO-OP had proceeded cautiously in much of this century, a time when big banks – and at least some big credit unions – had already doubled down on digital.

It was about time for CO-OP to take the digital plunge. And now executive after executive at Think18 sang from the same hymnal: CO-OP is in the midst of a digital transformation, driven by the perception that the credit union movement needs this, that it needs a leader that draws on the sharing and communal culture that distinguishes credit unions from their for profit brethren banks.

That leader, said CO-OP, will be it.  “Our goal is to be a world class technology company,” said Calcanes.  

These changes won’t happen with the snap of the fingers.  “Digital transformation is a continuous process. You don’t just wake up one morning and go ‘We did it! We’re transformed,’” warned James Wester, research director for IDC Financial Insights, a Think18 mainstage speaker. His message was aimed at the audience – executives from some 400 credit unions – as they contemplate their own organization’s transformation but it could just as well be an invocation to look at CO-OP’s transformation with a measure of patience.

Just what is going on at CO-OP which most in the credit union universe know for its 30,000+ fee-free ATM network and its shared branching network which consists of 5600 credit union branches where members at a participating credit union can walk into another credit union’s branch and do many of the transactions they can do at their home credit union? Many experts have cited these cooperative ventures as a credit union secret sauce that gives members access to a bigger ATM fleet (twice the size of Bank of America’s and Chase’s) and a branch system second only to Wells Fargo’s 6000+.

Count them as great achievements. But – realistically – it is the tech frontier where the financial services wars will be fought and won or lost.  

“The future of banking will be mobile,” said futurist Thomas Frey, another mainstage speaker. He added that “over 20% of branches will disappear by 2022. We are now closing three branches every day. That number will go up.”

CO-OP, under Clark, knows this.  And it has taken some bold steps — for instance, the acquisition of all of The Members Group from the Iowa Credit Union League for $100 million in 2017. (CO-OP had been a minority owner.) That instantly gave CO-OP significant digital payments credibility.  It also triggered big changes inside CO-OP because Clark’s aim with TMG has been to integrate it into CO-OP, to meld the TMG culture in with the more traditional CO-OP culture. In the acquisition press release, he said: “We are creating a new CO-OP that embraces technology and best-in-class service delivery to create a seamless, secure and personalized experience for our clients and their members, however they choose to interact with their credit union using a CO-OP product.”

Specifics about that vision have been scant, however – until Think18 where CO-OP’s leadership got busy communicating significant substance about the CUSO’s way forward. Understand: the CO-OP reinvention is a work in progress.  But a takeaway from Think18 is that CO-OP’s leadership is promising that the $424 million in revenues CUSO is thinking big – and about what will be needed for credit unions to thrive tomorrow.

Already there is big news about a new fraud initiative from CO-OP – as well as good news about Zelle, the p2p payment tool that last year processed a staggering $75 billion, twice what fintech darling Venmo moved.  

Ab0ut Zelle – which already has a handful of credit unions in its go live queue – Clark said the company is eager to enroll credit unions but it wants all but the biggest to go through a third party. Enter CO-OP.  “CO-OP will be an intermediary for credit unions,” said Clark.

The industry understands this from Apple Pay. Few credit unions – possibly only Navy Federal – worked directly with Apple. Others went through third parties such as TMG, CO-OP, Fiserv, and First Data.  Expect similar with Zelle but, stressed Clark, Zelle is a no brainer. “P2p is an important engagement channel,” he stressed and with its mushrooming name recognition, Zelle is becoming a tool digitally aware credit unions want to offer members.  

Bigger, more tangible news from CO-OP revolves around what it calls COOPER which CO-OP described this way in a press statement: “COOPER is CO-OP’s largest technology initiative, in which the company is investing millions of dollars to provide state-of-the-art machine learning and artificial intelligence to its client credit unions across the CO-OP ecosystem.”

Clark added: “COOPER is a major piece in our strategy to bring greater security throughout our products and services, while providing the most seamless experience to credit union members. COOPER will allow us to constantly improve upon the fight against fraud by enabling the understanding of huge amounts of data and detecting complex patterns rapidly.”

COOPER is built around what’s called machine learning which means it’s a smart system that keeps on learning.  It’s based on technology developed by machine learning company Feedzai, which has focused on fighting fraud in financial services and which counts First Data among its clients.

Clark said COOPER will be rolled out to the shared branching system in June. Wider roll outs follow.

“Credit unions are waiting for what we are doing to make a difference for them,” said Clark – and he clearly is betting that COOPER will be an answer to the worried prayers of many credit union executives who increasingly face armies of very smart, very skilled fraudsters.  

Fotis Konstantinidis, a senior vice president at CO-OP charged with overseeing fraud products, elaborated:  “Effective fraud prevention is a competitive issue for FIs. Our ultimate goal is to democratize AI and give credit unions the technology to compete with big banks.”

Another CO-OP initiative – still taking shape – was hinted at by Clark. He wants to put CO-OP to work monetizing the huge data lakes, as he called them, that CO-OP and many credit unions already have.  Said Clark: “The data we have can give you a real picture of what your member is doing if you use the data correctly.”

The initial steps are using data to attack fraud (a la Cooper).

Then it may get a lot more interesting.

“The power of this data is amazing,” said Clark.

This kind of data is how Netflix knows what you want to watch before you do.  It’s how Amazon knows what you need to buy before you do. Trust this: big banks have been all over this for at least five years. They are getting very good at knowing more about end-users than they may in fact know about themselves.

Credit unions – the vast majority – are not on this bus. Many don’t even know it’s out there.

Your future may hinge on getting smart about the data you have.  The answers you need already are there, if you know where to look.

CO-OP believes it is in a position to be the credit union wagon master on the trail through this digital wilderness of big data. In this bargain, what CO-OP has, via its partner credit unions, is lots of info about what we spend on, how much money we have, what our interests are, that’s a good place to be.

“We can use data to optimize member engagement, to anticipate their needs and deliver what they want before they know they want it,” said Paxson.

CO-OP has big dreams about how to monetize those data lakes so watch this space. The big data play may be the most transformative initiative at CO-OP.

There’s more percolating at CO-OP. Matt Maguire, chief data officer, noted that what credit unions members want – want all of us want – is what he called “a GAFA experience.”

He suggested that CO-OP wants to play a lead role in helping credit unions rise to the excellence of GAFA.

Because that just may be the bare necessity needed for a financial institution to thrive in the coming years of the 21st century.

Don’t know what GAFA is?  Look it up. Because just that is a perfectly 21st century gambit, and not bothering is just so 20th century.

Back at CO-OP chief marketer Samantha Paxson noted, “Amazon is our muse. It’s critical that we behave like Amazon.”


What’s the credit union response to CO-OP’s plans? Maybe the most succinct view belonged to Chuck Purvis, CEO of Coastal Federal in North Carolina, who said: “CO-OP has scale and reach that will entice fintechs to work with them.”

That’s key because, frankly, outside help – for instance, from companies like Feedzai in machine learning – will be needed. And CO-OP is getting that help.  The new CO-OP plainly has signaled that it will reach out to leaders and experts in order to better meet the needs of CO-OP members and their members.

It’s also moving faster. And that now is critical.

Warned Purvis: “If we don’t develop urgency about change we won’t be around.  We need to embrace change.”

The clock is ticking, it ticks for you.


Hyatt Thinks It Knows Business Travelers – Does It?


by Robert McGarvey


The more I learn from hotels about what they say they know about business travelers, the more I am skeptical, indeed the more I think they know bupkis.

A proof comes via Hyatt which, working with Harris Poll which conducted an online survey of 1300 adults who have traveled for business in the last year, has dug deep into what makes business travelers tick – so now does it really know you?  The focus was on what motivates business travelers and what we learn during our travels.  The hotel company that really gets that will have an edge. Does Hyatt?

You be the judge.

Among the findings:

  • 77% of US business travelers say business travel has helped them communicate more successfully with different types of people. The number varies by nationality. 95% of Indians, for instance, say similar.  Is this true for you? For me, sure, but I don’t see this as a rocket science insight. Anything that gets us out and about and interacting with a range of other people helps our communication skills, I think.
  • 68% of business travelers say business travel inclines them to be more empathetic with others, says Hyatt. As for me, nah, I don’t believe it. I see so much astounding rudeness on the road (mea culpa, sometimes it’s me who is rude).  I don’t see increased empathy. Look at the scrum for overhead storage space in coach. Are the combatants – many of whom are business travelers – more empathetic?
  • 59% of international business travelers see challenges as opportunities to grow.  OK, sure, but that mindset is standard for anybody who wants to get ahead.  Get handed lemons and the successful person thinks lemonade.  I’m actually surprised this percentage is only 59%. And just because we see something as an opportunity to grow doesn’t mean we applaud it. Or that we grow.
  • 92% of employed US business travelers are inclined to advance their careers.  Duh? You thought people went on the road because they like too small coach seats, lumpy and strange mattresses, and gallons of bad coffee?  Almost everybody I’ve known who travels a lot for business does it to advance. They suffer the hotels they stay in as a means to an end.
  • More business travelers, says Hyatt, are driven by creating a better life for their families (48%) than by receiving praise or recognition at work (33%). No real surprise here.
  • 77% of US business travelers believe they have learned skills that can help them in their personal life. Agreed. I have learned everything from how to more intelligently order in a posh sushi bar to how to calm an angry colleague.  It all adds up and business skills blur with personal. I am glad for the business travel I’ve had, very glad, even if there were many moments when I was miserable and other moments when I was enraged.  And I do keep working on skills to help me better cope with road stresses.

The survey also dug a bit into our on the road habits – somewhat randomly – and here Hyatt and I go in very different directions.

  • 22% think wearing pajamas on conference calls made from a hotel room is a major perk.  Really? Do you bring pj’s in your travel bag? I cannot recall ever doing it.  I have worn hotel robes of course and made phone calls wearing them but a perk that isn’t.  Not to me. It’s just a convenience. And I don’t think I have ever packed pj’s for a business trip.
  • 27% say they binge watch TV shows in hotel rooms.  I never have. As in never. I have at home, occasionally (most recently: Good Girls Revolt on Amazon).  But other than watching news shows, I don’t recall watching any TV in hotel rooms. None. Nor anything on my iPad. Trips just have very busy to-do lists.
  • 26% of business travelers indulge with a stiff drink at the hotel bar. In my case: guilty as charged in decades past, not so much now, not because I am older but because trips just seem busier.  Now at night I go back to my room and write up what happened that day, typically because clients who are paying for the travel want to know what I’m learning and they want to know now.

Add it up and I’m not impressed with the Hyatt findings. Are you? They could have gotten equally potent insights with a few Tarot card readings.

Hyatt, incidentally, in the fine print at the bottom of its press release about the poll makes this comment: “These online surveys are not based on a probability sample, and therefore, no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.”



News Flash: Mobile Banking Apps Now Among the Most Used


By Robert McGarvey


For Credit Union 2.0


The Citi 2018 Mobile Banking Study told us what we should already have known: consumers love a decent mobile banking app.  And they use it a lot.

How often? Citi said that mobile banking apps come in third, after only social media apps and weather.

That’s based upon a survey of 2000 US adults.

How often do your members use your app?

The question is not theoretical.  It’s in your face, life and death.  If your members don’t like your app – and I personally dislike the apps used at the two credit unions I belong to – what’s your future look like?

Almost half – 46% of consumers – told Citi they have increased their mobile usage in the past year.  Nearly two thirds of Millennials have done same. Expect that number to keep trending higher. As more of us discover that we can easily do most routine banking chores on a phone, we’ll migrate there – especially if we get the message that generally a mobile phone banking session (via cellular) is more secure than the same session on a Windows computer connected to WiFi.

Citi threw more numbers at us. 8 out of 10 of us use mobile banking nine days a month. One-third of us mobile bank 10 or more times a month.

91% of us prefer mobile banking over a visit to a branch – and don’t expect that number to decrease. Branches are dead, except for special purposes. If a consumer needs a wire transfer as part of a home purchase, sure, he/she may go to a branch (I did exactly that five years ago); it just seems simpler.  But for routine banking chores – including check deposit – it is vastly more time efficient to do it in one’s home, work, or car.

Personally I just deposited three checks via MRDC and transferred money from one account to another, all done at my desk, all done within five minutes. Going to a nearby branch would have eaten up at least 30 minutes and who has time for that?

Not many of us anymore.

“Mobile banking usage is skyrocketing as more consumers experience the benefits of greater convenience, speed and financial insights driven by new app features and upgrades,” said Alice Milligan, Chief Digital Client Experience Officer, U.S. Consumer Bank, Citi, in a press statement. “Over the past year we’ve witnessed this increase in engagement first-hand, with mobile usage in North America increasing by almost 25 percent, and we don’t see this trend slowing down any time soon.”

Mobile banking users also told Citi they feel more in control of their finances.  95% believe they know their exact balance right now, compared to 85% of non users.  Citi elaborated: “Nine out of ten (91 percent) have experienced additional positive outcomes from mobile banking, including greater awareness of their financial situation (62 percent); fewer concerns about managing their finances (41 percent) and a better understanding of the services offered by their bank (38 percent).”

Now for the bad news for you.  Read this: “Milligan added: ‘At Citi, we launched over 1,000 digital features in the U.S. in 2017, a nearly 500 percent increase over the previous year, and we continue to reimagine the client experience through innovative capabilities that deliver ease and simplicity for our cardmembers. In recent months, we have introduced a number of features to further enhance protection and security, such as face ID sign-on for the Citi Mobile App on iPhone X and email notifications when we detect unknown attempts to access customers’ accounts.’”

How fast are your vendors upgrading your apps?  Judging by the ones at my credit unions I’d say not frequently.

Not nearly often enough.  Not nearly enough to keep pace with the likes of Citi and Chase.

Can you say better about your apps?

You need to be able to,  That’s the reality for today.

When I talk with senior executives at many credit unions a common complaint about their apps vendors is that upgrades come too slowly.  It’s rare that I don’t hear that complaint.

But just maybe it’s no longer good enough just to complain.

Take action to make faster – richer – upgrades a regular reality. That’s how to survive today.