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Singing River Federal Credit Union Signs with CUSO CU SOUTH for Core Services

May 31, 2022 – After a long road of research, demos, and heavy vetting of core providers – the $265M asset Singing River Federal Credit Union out of Moss Point, Mississippi selects CU*SOUTH for their new core platform partnership.

“Over a 1 ½ years ago, our Senior Executive Team appointed qualified staff within our credit union and identified them as our “Core Team,” explains Singing River’s President and CEO Jimmy Smith. This team of professionals representing every spectrum of our credit union was tasked with defining what our greatest core processing needs were. In particular, we directed this team to envision not only our current needs, but what our needs may be in the future. Once our greatest needs were determined, we then focused on several Core Processor vendors which we believed best aligned with our vision to serve our staff and members,” Smith continues. “CU*SOUTH quickly rose to the top as we considered core processing partners.”

Opening in 1953 by the employees of International Paper (Southern Craft Mill) as a fair-rate financial cooperative, today’s Singing River consists of a membership size of over 21,000 with 80 employees – and growing. Looking ahead to continued growth, Singing River was searching not only for a system that would take care of their daily needs, but one that represented and supported the everchanging needs of their Credit Union members, while providing the resources from technology to support their staff not only needs, but deserves.

“In today’s fast paced world, your core system not only has to be able to keep up with your members’ needs, but also the ever growing and changing demands on your staff,” explains one of Singing River’s Sr. Vice Presidents Buddy Odom. “SRFCU believes CU*SOUTH’s size and innovativeness will allow us to reach that next level of service excellence.”

With a mission to exceed member and community expectations through quality products, outstanding service, and financial integrity – VP of Operations at Singing River Toni Goff explains, “CU*SOUTH gives us the capability to deliver services more efficiently to our membership. With more integration and innovation opportunities, these items are vital to our future growth at SRFCU. CU*SOUTH serves only credit unions. They support our credit union philosophy of “people helping people” which is a huge benefit as well.”

“Jimmy, his team, and the Board at Singing River recognized from the very beginning the immense value that we bring to our credit union partners and that we are so much more than just a core solution,” states Derrick Smith, President/Chief Operating Officer of CU*SOUTH. “We foster a culture of collaboration and cooperation that spans from our internal team to the credit union’s staff, Board, and members – all the way through to our cuasterisk.com network, allowing for a breadth of opportunity to pursue the most effective and innovative level of technology and service for our community of credit unions.”

Paul Thompson, another Sr. Vice President at Singing River perfectly summarizes the Credit Union’s excitement to partner with CU*SOUTH, “SRFCU is pleased to be part of the CU*SOUTH family! Our members and employees are the beneficiaries of constantly improving technology built for credit unions by credit unions. The CU*SOUTH Board is focused on a high level of service for CUSO members, and extra features are available to all CUSO members! It’s like everyone gets two cherries on top!”

Smith of CU*SOUTH concludes, “The trust they have placed in our CUSO does not go without notice and we will respect and honor that trust throughout our entire relationship. We are all very much looking forward to a long and continuing mission of service to Singing River and are delighted to have them join our CUSO family.”

Singing River’s conversion date to CU*SOUTH’s CU*Base core platform is tentatively set for September 2023.

As part of the CU*Asterisk network with a community of over 350 credit union partners, CUSO-based CU*SOUTH was founded in July 2006, with a mission to grow credit unions. They do this by delivering an outstanding core software and support experience (CU*BASE), as well as by delivering Collaborative Services with fractional employees to support the credit unions in the CU*Asterisk network with accounting, collections, compliance, IT management and back-office support, and more.

 

Contact:

Amy Herbig
Chief Marketing Officer
Direct: 507.403.7380
Main: 800.293.7554

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TruChoice FCU selects Co-op Solutions for ‘A more holistic approach to our card offerings’

May 23, 2022 – Seeking operational efficiencies, enhanced member experiences and a committed, collaborative technology partner, TruChoice FCU has added Debit, ATM and Credit processing to its services provided by Co-op Solutions.

“We were working with separate vendors, and wanted to have a more holistic approach to our card offerings,” said Ken Acker, CEO of TruChoice. “By partnering with Co-op for our Debit, ATM and Credit processing, we’ll be able to gain back-office efficiencies and provide more services to members. The goal is to enhance the member experience through greater digital offerings and payment options.”

“We selected Co-op as our solutions provider because their cooperative model aligns with our own mission and values,” said Acker. “Co-op is highly competitive in the market for innovation, allowing us to take advantage of leading-edge technology to meet member expectations for digital payments.”

Based in Portland, Maine, TruChoice (www.trufcu.com) is a 65-year-old credit union with additional locations in Biddeford and Buxton, and primarily serving members across 10 counties in the state. TruChoice was already a participant in the Co-op ATM network, with more than 30,000 machines nationwide. Co-op recently added 60 surcharge-free ATM locations to its network in Maine at local Hannaford grocery stores.

“We look forward to building our partnership with Co-op for long-term success,” said Acker. “We’re focused on a collaborative approach to build out solutions for our members while streamlining the workload for our Operations team. As we move into a digital-forward approach, we’re excited to have a partner with a robust outlook toward innovation, allowing us to meet our members anytime, anywhere.”

“TruChoice has built a reputation as a trusted financial partner to members with a deeply held commitment to the idea of people helping people,” said Matt Kardell, Chief Revenue Officer for Co-op Solutions. “Throughout the movement, maintaining that bond of trust has increasingly come to depend on putting into members’ hands the payments technology they now expect. We are honored to work with TruChoice to provide the solutions that will meet this need now and in the future.”

For more information on the Co-op ecosystem of financial technology products and services visit www.co-opfs.org/Solutions.

About Co-op Solutions

Co-op Solutions is the market-leading financial technology platform whose mission is to connect credit unions to the technology, strategic partnership and scale they need to best serve their members now and into the future. Co-op partners with credit unions to unlock their potential so they can compete; does the hard work of innovation, creating a one-stop opportunity to help credit unions grow; and offers knowledge and expertise in a world where everything must be integrated. For more information, visit www.coop.org.

 Contact:
Bill Prichard, APR
Director, Public Relations
Co-op Solutions
(909) 532-9416
Bill.Prichard@coop.org

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April spending trends: Consumers grow cautious as recession looms

CO-OP Payments Trends Report (Spending Data from April 1-30)

May 18, 2022 – Several months of consumer price pressures, stock market volatility, geopolitical threats and rising interest rates are beginning to take their toll on consumer spending. Co-op’s April credit union card portfolio data showed weak month-over-month results across most categories as cardholders grew concerned with the potential of recession later this year.

Underlying economic data was mixed in April, as non-farm payrolls grew by 428,000 in April and the unemployment rate remained steady at 3.6%. Wages rose by 0.3% for the month – an increase of 5.5% from a year ago. Despite these strong labor figures, however, gross domestic product fell by 1.4% in the first quarter – the first decline in GDP since the early days of the pandemic.

And inflation is still a significant worry for shoppers, as the consumer price index hit an annual growth rate of 8.5% in March, the fastest pace in 40 years. In a bid to curb rising prices, the Federal Reserve Bank raised its benchmark bank lending rate by 50 basis points at its May 4 meeting, the largest increase since 2000. The Fed’s recent moves are beginning to impact consumer borrowing rates, as the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rate reached 5% for the first time since 2011.

These events are fueling widespread concern of an economic downturn later this year or in early 2023, with Deutsche Bank recently warning of a “major recession.” Consumers seem to be taking note as they begin to scale back their spending in anticipation of further instability and belt-tightening in the months ahead.

Here are some of the key spending trends Co-op’s SmartGrowth consultants are watching closely:

#1: Grocery Stays Strong as Consumers Shift to Essentials

Grocery emerged as one of the few highlights in Co-op’s April credit union spending data, with modest upticks in amount and count across both the credit and debit portfolios. Consumers have begun curbing their spending on luxury and non-essential goods and services in the Travel, Lodging, Digital Goods, Dining and Sports/Recreation categories, conserving their dollars to spend on staples.

“Shoppers are shifting to private label brands, which are making a comeback in the grocery stores,” said John Patton, Co-op Senior Payments Advisor. “For example, people are buying generic rather than Jif brand peanut butter, in order to stretch the value of their dollar.”

According to a report from PYMNTS, 61% of consumers are shopping primarily for “essential” goods, including gas, health products, food and beverages. This is leading to a stagnation in eCommerce purchases, as 17% fewer of these “stick to essentials” consumers made online purchases in March as compared with January 2022.

“Because of the unique nature of the health and economic challenges we have faced over the past couple of years, the federal government had been more cautious in raising rates than they were during previous inflationary periods,” said Beth Phillips, Director at Co-op Solutions. “This means the government is now forced to play catch-up, and the combination of high prices, supply shortages and rising interest rates is driving the consumer perception that prices are truly out of control.”

#2: High Housing Costs Leads to Home Improvement Growth

 According to a new Gallup poll, only 30% of U.S. consumers believe it is a good time to buy a home. This is the lowest level recorded since 1978, and comes as the median home sales price hits a record $428,000 and 30-year mortgage rates continue to rise.

According to Patton, these concerns are leading a growing number of homeowners to stay put and invest in their current home, providing yet another boost to the Home Improvement merchant category.

“The rising costs of purchasing and financing a home are going to start impacting the home sales model,” said Patton. “People are getting to the point where they would rather stay in their current home instead of buying a new house. We’re already seeing some data showing that the average purchase price – even though still elevated – is beginning to soften, indicating that people are starting to buy smaller residences.”

Home improvement projects were already on the rise due to months of stay-at-home practices and quarantines during the pandemic, and now that is morphing into projects driven by astronomical home prices.

“Home improvement spend is very high on debit, which tells us that consumers still have cash on hand, and they’re willing to spend it to improve their current home and ride out this current housing cycle,” said Patton.

“With home prices at record levels and consumers equipped more than ever to update their homes themselves or with the help of a professional, implementing a special pricing promotion on home improvement merchants this summer will align perfectly with consumer demand,” said Phillips. “Now is also a great opportunity to consider your credit card product as a small loan vehicle for consumers to make home improvement purchases. For a consumer, using your card is much easier than applying for a small home loan.”

#3: The Return of the “Staycation”?

 In April, one of the biggest growth categories across both the credit and debit portfolios was Campers and Camping, which showed double-digit increases in count and amount. This came while the Travel, Lodging and Sport/Recreation categories were all down for the month.

Co-op’s SmartGrowth experts expect this trend to continue, as consumers look to vacation closer to home and on a budget as a way to stave off inflation while also remaining safe in light of continued COVID variant outbreaks.

What Credit Unions Should Do Now

Despite inflation, credit balances are continuing to rise. Co-op member credit portfolio balances were 7% higher in April 2022 than a year prior, continuing a recent trend. Instituting a low introductory rate balance transfer campaign now can help credit union members save as interest rates rise, while reinforcing the primary financial relationship. In addition, applying engagement strategies can help ensure new card holders utilize a credit union’s card as their main option.

As balances increase and the economy wavers, it’s also important to analyze members’ credit lines usage and adjust as necessary to meet cardholders’ needs while protecting the credit union.

Supply chain issues continue to severely impact chip shortages, which means it’s getting more expensive to reissue credit and debit cards. Some major issuers are pushing out their reissue dates from the typical three years to five. This approach can save a credit union money in the long run, while also improving member convenience and helping to keep a credit union’s card at the top of their members’ digital wallets.

Lastly, the importance of analyzing payments data to optimize the member experience is more critical to current and future success than ever. “Your credit union has access to behavioral data, and you’re in a prime position to help your member by cross-selling auto loans, home improvement loans and other credit facilities,” said Patton.

Month-Over-Month Category-Level Spending (Comparing April 2022 to March 2022)

Please note that the category spending below reflects month-over-month comparisons (rather than year-over-year) – i.e., compares April 2022 with March 2022, rather than April 2022 to April 2021.

Credit Debit
  Count Amount Interchange Count Amount Interchange
Category Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change Monthly Change
Amazon/Bookstores -3% -3% -2% -3% -3% -4%
Digital Goods -5% -5% -4% -5% -5% -4%
Dining and Entertainment -1% -1% -2% -1% -1% -1%
Education -3% -5% -4% -7% -6% -6%
Gas 0% 0% 2% -1% -1% -1%
Grocery 2% 2% 3% 1% 2% 1%
Lodging -5% -5% -5% -5% -7% -7%
Medical -6% -6% -5% -6% -7% -7%
Retail 1% 1% 2% 1% 0% -1%
Travel -1% -6% -5% -3% -7% -7%
Computers -2% -5% -3% -3% -4% -4%
Office -6% -3% -2% -6% -9% -9%
Campers & Camping 13% 10% 14% 17% 10% 11%
Home Improvement 10% 8% 9% 12% 11% 10%
Sport/Recreation -4% -6% -5% -4% -6% -7%

 More information on the Co-op SmartGrowth Consulting Team can be found here.

About Co-op Solutions

Co-op Solutions is the market-leading financial technology platform whose mission is to connect credit unions to the technology, strategic partnership and scale they need to best serve their members now and into the future. Co-op partners with credit unions to unlock their potential so they can compete; does the hard work of innovation, creating a one-stop opportunity to help credit unions grow; and offers knowledge and expertise in a world where everything must be integrated. For more information, visit coop.org.

Contact:
Bill Prichard, APR
Director, Public Relations
Co-op Solutions
(909) 532-9416
Bill.Prichard@coop.org

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PSCU Payments Index – May Edition

Today, PSCU – the nation’s premier payments credit union service organization (CUSO) – published the May edition of the PSCU Payments Indexthe goal of which is to provide information and insights to help financial institutions make informed, strategic decisions on the road ahead.

In the Labor Department’s May 11 update, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) moderated slightly, with a 0.3% increase in April. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the April 2022 unemployment rate was unchanged from March at 3.6%. A combination of strong job growth and low unemployment will likely further fuel consumer spending – even as wage increases due to low labor supply continues to fuel inflation. April performance was similar to March, reflecting strong growth rates in consumer spending. Credit card purchases were up 20% over 2021, while debit card purchases were up 4%.

Now into its third month, the war in Ukraine has created the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II and worldwide energy prices remain elevated. The Consumer Confidence Index decreased slightly in April following an increase in March. Purchasing intentions were down overall from recent levels as interest rates have started to rise.

Finally, contactless tokenized Card Present transactions continue to gain momentum in the market. This month, we take a deeper look into Mobile Wallet usage.

“Consumer spending remained strong in April 2022, with credit continuing to drive the largest growth and average credit card balances experiencing the second consecutive month of year-over-year growth,” said Cody Banks, managing vice president, Payments and Fraud Strategy, PSCU. “This month’s Consumer Price Index experienced the first drop in eight months, while the Fed increased interest rates again, with additional increases expected to come this summer. As growth in touchless payments at the point of sale continues to gain momentum, we take a look at the growth of Mobile Wallets in this month’s Deep Dive, including the top merchant sectors and usage differences by generation.”

A sampling of key takeaways from the May report includes:

  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) for March moderated slightly to 8.3% in April, which was a 0.2% decrease from March – and the first drop in the CPI in eight months. In April, the Fed increased interest rates by 50 basis points with another half point hike on the table for its meetings in June.
  • Mobile Wallets continue to show strong growth, with notable growth coming from younger generations. For Gen Z (19- to 23-year-olds), Mobile Wallet transactions in April were up 158% for credit and 102% for debit year over year. The importance of being top of wallet in their mobile device for this age group is growing, as Mobile Wallet transactions now represent 7.4% of Card Present debit activity and 3.9% of Card Present credit activity.
  • Consumer spending on cards remains strong, with credit purchases up 20% and debit purchases up 4% year over year. Again, contributing to the lower growth in debit was exceptional spend in 2021 funded by the third economic stimulus payment. The Entertainment sector once again posted top growth rates for credit and debit purchases in April. For credit purchases, Travel and Gasoline were a close second and third, respectively. For debit purchases, Gasoline was a close second, with Restaurants and Travel tied for a more distance third.
  • The average credit card balance for April 2022 was $2,711, up 3.4% (or $90) year over year. April marked the second consecutive month of year-over-year growth.

The full report is available for download here or can be shared as a PDF upon request. Additionally, feel free to subscribe here to receive updates when the PSCU Payments Index is published each month.

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The value of honesty

Article by Jonathan Antonini with intro by Jack Antonini 

We live at a time when traditional values are being challenged nearly every day. As credit union leaders, we embrace traditional values, such as People Helping People, the mission of the credit union movement. As we work to help members, and our teams who work so hard to support our mission of helping our members, it can be helpful to think about some of the traditional values that are being undermined and forgotten. One of those values is honesty. My son, Jonathan Antonini, a former Professor of English Literature at Sam Houston State University, shared his perspectives on one of the constantly changing values in the world in which we live. Take a moment to read his story, and perhaps share with your team … reinforcing traditional values such as honesty helps build character and helps us better serve members.

Over my six years serving as a professor of literature and English, I encountered a fair amount of cheating and plagiarism from my students. For the most egregious cases, I would call the students into my office and ask them a simple question – “Did you cheat on your essay?” I already knew the answer was “yes,” as the plagiarism software our university employed was quite thorough, but I wanted to hear what my students would say. I wanted to test their character as well as their writing, for growing and determining ethical fiber was important in my class.

I remember three specific encounters. In the first appointment, after I asked my question, the student denied cheating vehemently – “Oh, No, Mr. Antonini! I would never cheat on an essay! I wrote this completely by myself!” Without saying a word, I simply turned my computer screen toward the student, which revealed the massive extent of the plagiarism in this student’s essay. “Then would you care to explain this?” I said gently, as I slowly scrolled down the page to reveal word after word, sentence after sentence, and paragraph after paragraph all copied from a free essay online. The student’s expression turned from shock to defiance, as she slowly sat back in her chair and said nothing. I assigned the student a zero, and without any apology or sign of remorse, she grabbed her backpack, got up, and simply walked out of my office.

In the second appointment, after asking the question, the student feigned ignorance. “What do you mean, Mr. Antonini? I don’t know how I could have plagiarized?” I patiently and painstakingly went over his essay, revealed all the plagiarism, and kept looking to him to see if he would admit what he had done. He continued to give me a dumbfounded look, not being able to understand how this could have happened. After ten minutes or so of me pointing out every bit of plagiarism, he finally admitted that he had his friend write his paper for him. I smiled and gave a soft laugh. “Having a friend write your paper for you is still cheating,” I said. He also received a zero and left my office.

On the third and final appointment, the student walked into my office and stood before me with a slightly guilty look. I think he knew what this office visit was about, and I asked him the same question that I asked all the others. However, to my great surprise, he looked me in the eye and said in a soft voice, “Yes, professor. I cheated.” Then he slowly lowered his head in shame and averted his eyes from mine. In my great joy, I said, “Thank you!!” louder than I expected, as he looked up at me in surprise and befuddlement. I repeated the words again with a goofy smile on my face, and I hugged him (Yes, professors generally should not hug their students, but if you had been lied to as many times I have over the years, you might just hug an honest student, too). He was completely dumbfounded, as this was not the reception he was expecting. I could not give him a high grade, after all, he did cheat, but I was able to give him a 50 on his essay, which is far better than a zero. He left my office grateful, and I was able to go home with hope in my heart about our future generation.

I am always trying to teach my students, whether I am inside the classroom or out. In this instance, I wanted to teach these students the value of honesty. For the third student, I rewarded honesty. I told him that being honest cultivated trust, and it allowed me to give students that I trusted the benefit of the doubt when they needed it the most. While I do believe in the old adage – “Honesty is its own reward” – I also believe that honesty affords very real and physical rewards. Sometimes a reward may come in the form of an increased grade, but honesty almost always affords a deeper level of trust, as people will naturally gravitate towards those whom they know are being honest rather than people who are known to have a reputation for lying. Ethics are not meant to be taught simply to bludgeon people over the head that they need to be better people, but rather ethics are taught because they protect us from danger, reward our diligence, cultivate trust, prime us for a promotion, or in the case of my students, allow for a higher grade. Cultivating and employing honesty does have its rewards.

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