Where Would You Open a New Account Today?


By Robert McGarvey

Direct question: if you were opening a new account at a financial institution today, for yourself, perhaps for a child or another relative, where would it be?

It can’t be at your present employer.

That’s the only exclusion.  

So where would you open it?

A few months ago I opened a new account at a Phoenix credit union with a branch closest to my home and when I opened it, I did not bother to put a five-figure deposit into a savings account because the rate was pitiful,

Still is.  0.5%. I just checked.

A simple checking account pays exactly 0.0.

Oh, and opening an account using only online tools at this institution proved impossible. I had to visit the branch to conclude the process.

Yes, I was determined to open a credit union account. So I persevered. Will other consumers? 

Look at your institution through the eyes of a prospective new account holder. What do they see?

Do you like what they see?

Hold that thought and now focus on this: Today’s email brought a press release from MagnifyMoney announcing its rankings of the best online banks.

Many of these are institutions with robust advertising and marketing budgets. Consumers know about them. Will that consumer think of them – or of you – when they want to open a new account?  And when they compare the best online banks with your offerings, how do you stack up?

The best online bank, per MagnifyMoney, is Ally which of course dates back to 1919 and its former name GMAC.  Its longevity is as good as just about every credit union.

Ally pays 2.2% on its savings account.  0.1% on checking. 0.9% on a money market account.

How do you stack up?

Also high ranking in the MagnifyMoney scoring are Synchrony, Goldman Sachs, Barclays, and Capital One 360.

Vio won honors as the best new online bank. It’s a division of MidFirst bank.  Savings pays 2.39%. It promises online account opening in less than five minutes.

Again, the question is: how do you stack up?

A shrewd consumer just might find the smart move is to open a checking account at your credit union – and to park other money in savings at Vio.

Many executives at credit unions see free checking as the gateway relationship that leads to other relationships. But what if it isn’t?  Especially not today when it it is easy for a consumer to shop around online and to open new accounts at a variety of institutions. Maybe one for checking, one for savings, a third for a credit card, and a fourth for a car loan.

Then where is your business plan that revolves around free checking?

About now exasperated credit union executives will shout that the consumer should open an account at a credit union, instead of a for profit bank, because that is the right thing to do and it helps keep more money in the local community.

Yes, absolutely true. I agree.

The trouble is, not that many consumers agree.

In fact research reported by The FinancialBrand is adamant that consumers “know diddly squat about credit unions.”

64% of non members are not familiar with credit unions.

33% say there aren’t enough branches. 25% say there aren’t enough ATMs.

30% say it’s difficult to find a credit union they can join.

Sure, it is easy to say the consumers just don’t know – but we already stipulated they don’t know diddly squat.

They don’t and that is what makes the moral imperative argument ineffective.  It just can’t be counted to persuade that many consumers to go with a credit union.

Why aren’t the trades, the larger CUSOs, and the largest credit unions pushing the credit union advantage? Why haven’t they mounted powerful – effective – campaigns? Why don’t we see high profile influencers who are happy to act as evangelists for credit unions and the cooperative way?

I don’t know why but I sure would like to hear from the big players.

Another question: why are many of the largest credit unions yanking “credit union” out of their names?

The bottomline is simple. Credit unions, to win new accounts, need to work very hard to offer products that are competitive with the offerings from the online banks.

That’s not fair? It ignores the costs involved with brick and mortar?

True enough.  So what should your credit union do if in fact you cannot match the rates offered by online banks?  Double-down on the credit union advantages. Make them the cornerstone of your advertising/marketing. Educate consumers about credit unions. Make it an ethical argument. Go local, go self-ownership. Those arguments will resonate with consumers who just may want to open an account in an institution where they are an owner rather than with an online bank with better rates.

Talk about the Rochdale Principles.

Sell cooperatives and credit unions because – really – they are the better way. And many consumers will get that message. But first you have to tell it to them.

Welcome to the Circus: The Carrier Pursuit of Irrelevance


By Robert McGarvey

Don’t mind me, I’m only yawning.

The headline in trade pub Travelmarket Report triggered yawns in me: Major Airlines Duke It Out For Free Live TV Supremacy.  

For a brief second I was puzzled: what year is this?

I remember maybe 10 years ago when Continental, with much fanfare, introduced DirecTV and since I was flying business class in that era, it was free. In coach it apparently cost $6 and I’m sure I wouldn’t have paid for it because TV remains Newton Minow’s vast wasteland.  The less I watch the happier I am.

So of course I am not thrilled that now United, American and Delta apparently are battling to see which can offer free TV to more passengers. Call this the airline homage to Juvenal, the first century AD satirist who said the masses could be sated with bread and circuses —

iam pridem, ex quo suffragia nulli / uendimus, effudit curas; nam qui dabat olim / imperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc se / continet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, / panem et circenses

Translation:  Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions — everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.

Call more TV at 30,000 feet circuses and even tho in coach free bread is but a memory, the executives at the carriers must think that maybe we’ll be sated with the circus, at least placated enough not to notice how dismal back of the bus carriage has become.

And I also scratch my head at how, well, primitive free TV on the seatback is. As Travel Market Report noted, “some airlines are choosing to remove seatbacks [that is, screens] altogether; after it acquired Virgin America, known for the quality of its inflight entertainment, Alaska Airlines said it would ultimately phase out the seat back screens in favor of better WiFi and streaming choices vis passenger devices.”

Many other carriers are said to be kicking that idea around, especially as they confront the coming era of pricier jet fuel. When fuel is expensive weight matters and, yes, a screen weighs little but multiply it by the number of seats and the weight begins to exact a fuel toll.  Thus the interest in eighty sixing seatback screens – and putting the onus on passengers to tote their own devices (iPads, laptops, even smartphones) and to watch them.

Makes sense to me.  Other than some glances at DirecTV on Continental a decade ago, I cannot recall even noticing the seatback screen on flights.  My m.o. is to bring an iPad with a loaded Kindle app and to use flight time to read.  

But that’s only after handling accumulated email because a principle I travel with is arriving home with a clean desk – and that means responding to all emails received when on the road during the homeward bound flight.  If I have working WiFi – always a question and, yes, I’d be all in on an airline campaign to upgrade WiFi into a usable tool but we seem rather far from that — I’ll send off those emails from the air. But if not I’ll just backlog then and send when I land. Either way I’ve abided by my rules.

Which brings us to something that genuinely needs fixing: Most flights continue to lack WiFi and few have WiFi that is better than a nuisance.  If carriers touted a rollout of usable WiFi – not free TV – I’d be first to applaud.

But, apparently, carriers think we are so dimwitted that we’ll be sated by the flickering TV screen and may even forget that we still don’t have WiFi worth spit.

Sigh, at least I have my iPad with roughly 1000 books downloaded. I know I won’t be watching the free TV and if enough of us don’t, will carriers get the message that TV is not an adequate substitute for working WiFi? Nah, I doubt it.

But it’s pretty to wish as much.

The Cooperators Podcast, Episode 1 – Roberta MacDonald Cabot

Buckle up for a fast journey into the world of cooperatives with branding guru Robert MacDonald who will tell you why she is optimistic about a world where cooperatives are delivering local – relevant – solutions created by people for people. Be prepared to listen again and again because this is a podcast with a lot of rich content. Along the way you’ll even learn how Cabot got its name – and how many cooperatives there are in the U.S. Do you know? Take your best guess and listen up to get the answer.

Listen here

Business Travel, Climate Change and You


By Robert McGarvey

We have met the enemy and he is us (apologies to Walt Kelly).

Travel is an enemy of the environment. That is fact.  And we are in the equation.

Skift recently had a piece on the scramble of hotels and airlines to respond to global warming which, by the way, is an undisputed reality – ask NASA.

And that got me pondering what I could do – what you could do.

It can’t entirely be on the hotels and the airlines. There’s a part in this for us too.

Of course we’ve known for some time about the link between business travel and global warming. No news there. Except matters just keep getting worse. A recent article in nature climate changeThe Carbon Footprint of Global Tourism” pulled no punches.  Wrote the authors: “We find that, between 2009 and 2013, tourism’s global carbon footprint has increased…four times more than previously estimated, accounting for about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

They added: “The rapid increase in tourism demand is effectively outstripping the decarbonization of tourism-related technology.”

(Reporting on the paper is here in the UK Independent.)

Of course we’re not tourists. But, in my mind, business travel is a big part of this problem – especially as more of us are flying longhaul flights to Asia, Africa, etc.  It is becoming one world, and – increasingly – I find myself feeling out of it because I am becoming the only person I know who doesn’t have a 10 year Chinese business visa.

Think about how much pollution goes into that longhaul trip. Air travel is a significant polluter – accounting for upwards of 2% of global carbon dioxide.  

Ditto those x-country trips in the US.

Yes, there are many carbon offset programs and some, if not many, business travelers and their employers and clients participate.  And in some cases, the costs of an offset may be tax deductible.  

But is that enough?

Let’s be honest. Hotels are negligible contributors to global warming and many now are scrambling to further cut their emissions.  Of course we also can stay at LEED certified hotels but we probably can do a lot on our own in any hotel just by turning off lights when we leave the room, setting summer temps at 78 and winter at 68, re-using towels, and you know the drill.  All good steps, if symbolic in many respects, but we know what to do and more of us are doing it.

The carbon culprit is air travel.

A solution, where possible, is to take a train because it is vastly less polluting.  Many multiples less.

That’s very possible – indeed preferable – in Europe and it is increasingly a good option in Canada (read Chris Barnett on travel from Toronto and Montreal).

But it’s not a good option in the US, other than the short Acela route (Boston to Washington DC) and when I lived in Jersey City I often took the train to DC or Baltimore.  

Don’t think about trains on many other US routes however – they just don’t cut it. As far as I know there is no train stop in Phoenix, for instance. The nearest is in a town called Maricopa which, oddly, is in Pinal County, not Maricopa Cty where Phoenix is. It’s a town of 50,000, 35 miles south of Phoenix, and, nope, I’ve never been. I see an Amtrak train, costing $90 to LA, that will take 8 and a half hours. I can fly American non stop, roundtrip for $167 and the flight is under 90 minutes. I guess I’m not going to Maricopa anytime soon.

And tell me about the train from LAX to Shanghai. Or Paris. No can do of course.

On the ground, increasingly, I use mass transit (subways preferably or light rail).  Sometimes Uber. But I’m cheap and also honestly like subways, can’t think of any I disliked.  So usually you’ll find me in mass transit on the ground when I travel.

Oh, and always walk when that’s an option. Better for you, better for the planet.

Here’s the bad news: the single biggest step the business traveler can take to cut his/her carbon footprint is to travel less – specifically, to fly less.

That’s really the only step that matters.

And often flying is the only real way to make the trip.

Before every flight, ask: do I need to go? Will a Skype video call suffice?  

Does your company need to send three execs when one would do?

Can you piggyback trips – so that flight to Shanghai leads into a train trip to Hong Kong. Thus cutting out one air roundtrip.

Bottomline: cutting the carbon cost of business travel means doing less of it. Sure, that is a kidney punch to our elite dreams. But so what?

This mean utterly rethinking how we travel and, more to the point, how we do business.

Less face to face isn’t a bad thing.  In fact it’s just reverting to how it was pre WW II. And that wasn’t so very long ago. It worked then. It can work now.

Heck, maybe we’ll also start sending letters via post. Wouldn’t that be something?

The Best Credit Card for Business Travelers


By Robert Mcgarvey

Put three business travelers at a Holiday Inn bar and around 9 p.m., after drinks have flowed for maybe three hours, toss out this topic – what’s the absolute best credit card for business travel, the one you won’t leave home without – and then hastily back off.

That’s because fists and bottles may start flying.

Nobody gets worked up debating the best domestic carrier – they all suck so why fight.

Or the best business travel hotel. Who gives a whit about Hilton vs Marriot vs IHC?

With the best bank there may be a little debate but, really, we all know the big banks stink and therefore the best answers are going to be curve balls. (Here’s my answer by the way.)

But the real fisticuffs come out when the debate is about credit cards because we all have them and we all have opinions.

The trigger for this column was a recent New York Times story headlined “Best Credit Card for Travelers? Probably Not One From an Airline.”

And right at jump I had to disagree.

Sort of.

According to the Times, your best bet for a travel card is Amex Platinum ($550) or Chase Sapphire Reserve ($450) — “they provide hefty credits that can be used with any airline to cover expenses like checked bags and in-flight purchases, along with other benefits like access to airport lounges.”

Personally I’ve had the Platinum card for years and I swear by the Centurion lounges, I like the annual $200 credit for Uber (dribbled out in monthly $15 tranches and a year-end bonus), the $200 airline fee credit (against checked bag fees, etc. – applicable only to one airline designated annually), free Priority Pass membership, reimbursement for Global Entry or Pre (I used it for Pre), and free Boingo Preferred WiFi access at many airports. There’s also 5x points on air and hotel expenses. And still more stuff.  It is indeed a feature rich card that returns what I pay for it and more.

But it is not quite enough for me.

Maybe I do not think they are the best credit cards for travelers. But I do also have a United World Explorer card – $95 per year and for that I get 2X miles at restaurants, hotel, and United purchases. There’s a free checked bag.  $100 towards TSA Pre or Global Entry (I used it for the latter.) A couple club passes annually. And no foreign transaction fees.  

There’s also priority boarding which is why I have the card in the first place. That gives me the key perk that comes with low level elite status which I no longer have because I have no airline loyalty.  None.

I also have an American Airlines AAdvantage Aviator card.  Also $95.  2X miles on American purchases. Free checked bag. No foreign transaction fees.  

And, again, priority boarding.

If you don’t have elite status – and unless it is easy to get why bother? – an airline credit card gives you what you most want from status.

Do I need both the airline cards? Probably not. I got the United card (nee Continental) when I lived in Jersey City NJ, flew out of EWR and always flew Continental.

I now live in Phoenix and usually fly American, thus that card.

But until Platinum gives me priority boarding – and I do not see that day coming – I will have at least one airline credit card. When you do carryon and only carryon, which is how I’ve flown for over a dozen years, early boarding is a must.  Hanging out at baggage carousels to collect a gate checked bag just is so uncool. And a complete waste of my time.

So I pay a small fee (tax deductible) for a card that gives me early boarding and that combination of an airline card with Amex Platinum is to me just about perfect.

Except — there is one perk I definitely think a travel card ought to include and that’s free access to Authentic 8’s Silo or a VPN, to give travelers much better Internet security at airports, inflight, at coffee shops, and also hotels. Public WiFi is a trap, simply awful. I do not use it. And recommend others don’t unless they take security precautions. Sure, a decent VPN or Silo can be yours for under $15 monthly – Silo is better, but it doesn’t run on everything – but as a perk I’d take either over Boingo any day. Just saying, Amex.