CUNA Eats Crow

Indiana media treat us well at the IBA. Reporters often turn to us as a resource, and we welcome the opportunity to share the banking industry’s point of view. We also find that, by and large, Indiana reporters are fair and impartial. We rarely decline an interview request.

But recently we did. On Wednesday, Nov. 9, a local television reporter asked us to comment on a Nov. 4 news release issued by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). The release boasted that at least 650,000 consumers nationwide had joined credit unions during the prior four weeks, attributable in part to Bank Transfer Day. Which, incidentally, wasn’t happening until the next day, Nov. 5.

I respected the reporter’s interest in talking with the banking community, but I was concerned about giving credence to phantasmal “statistics.” The numbers simply didn’t add up. Verifying the establishment of financial institution accounts is not instantaneous. It takes time to establish accounts; it takes time to verify them. So we politely declined the reporter’s request, explaining that meaningful observations were not possible in the absence of credible data.

Sure enough, four weeks later, CUNA retracted. It admitted that its initial announcement of 650,000 new credit union accounts had been overstated and instead offered a “considerably lower” estimate of 214,000 new accounts. (In my mind, 67 percent down is more than “considerably lower.”) Plus, in October, in which many of the accounts appear to have been opened, CUNA reported that savings account balances at credit unions had decreased from the prior month!

I have never worked at a credit union, but I do know that bankers would not settle for being off by two-thirds—and you would not accept such an error from your trade associations, either. It is important to take a logical look at information presented in order to make a sound decision. You do this every day in running a bank. Thanks for the shining example. Happy New Year!

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