Thursday, October 15, 2015

What Do Consumers Care About in 2015?

It's autumn. Leaves are changing colors and the nights are cooler. There's a crispness in the weekend air as football returns and major league baseball teams try to make it to the World Series. There's a certain excitement as kids go back to school, make new friends and Halloween approaches.

While times are good and appear to be getting better, still consumers have some strong concerns that politicians and policy makers need to address. Here are the top five concerns based on a recent survey of 1,045 members of the American Consumer Council.

1. More Jobs. This continues to be the number one concern for consumers. More than 68% of consumers says they want to see greater job creation and have the opportunity to advance in their chosen field. The percentage is even higher (77%) for those respondents under 35 years of age.

2. Wage Growth.  Over 64% of consumers feel their wages have been sluggish and not kept pace with the cost of living. Consumers want to see a substantial increase in the minimum wage (61%) and they want companies to expand family benefits, especially for new mothers and fathers, and caring for their aging parents (59%).

3.  Debt Relief.  There is a growing concern among many consumers that a college education will soon be unaffordable. More than 57% of consumers responded by saying the burden of college tuition is "breaking the family bank."  Several presidential candidates have taken up the cry for "free college tuition" and it appears that consumers will support those candidates who appeal to their pocketbook issues.

The second part of the Debt Relief issue is the concern of consumers over their home mortgages. A significant number of consumers-homeowners (38%) told us they are still "upside down" in their mortgage debt-to-market value ratio. This has been a nagging problem since the Great Recession of 2008 and exacerbated by the deceit and dishonesty of Wall Street banks and brokers. Many consumers (31%) still want some kind of financial relief and justice for those harmed by the bankers who rigged the mortgage system.

4. Improved Infrastructure.  It's clear from our survey that a growing number of consumers (44%) are disgruntled with aging roads, potholes, dilapidated bridges, an antiquated transportation system and traffic jams.  We are seeing a growing number of consumers now calling for a major investment by Congress in America's infrastructure.

This includes a national high speed rail program (53%) between America's busiest major cities and corridors such as San Diego to San Francisco, Boston to Richmond, and Miami to Atlanta. Consumers are tired of sitting in airports and experiencing flight delays and crammed seats on airplanes. They are demanding more funding from Congress for transportation and they want the United States to enter the 21st Century when it comes to roads, bridges and rail.

5. Criminal Justice Reform.  This is an issue that has bubbled-up over the past two years in our surveys. While criminal justice reform would appear to be more of a "social justice and equality" issue, there's a growing frustration and concern among consumers that police departments are overzealous in their arrest tactics, and too many Americans are going to jail for drug use offenses while Wall Street bankers go free for their crimes against society.

Now, 38% of consumers rank Criminal Justice Reform as a major concern because it is affecting  the harmony of inner cities and race relations, stalling the growth of small businesses and negatively impacting the well-being of citizens who are afraid to walk in their neighborhoods.

Specifically, 47% of consumers want sweeping reform among law enforcement agencies in terms of community policing and how they arrest citizens. Also, more consumers are now in favor of major drug law reform (41%); and approve the regulated use of addictive drugs (35%); the legalization of marijuana (58%); and, replacing jail sentences for the use of narcotics with mandated treatment programs funded by the states (61%).  Only 14% of respondents want a reduction in criminal penalties for drug dealers.

So, these are the major issues and concerns of consumers as we enter the fourth quarter of 2015.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council and can be reached at:

Thursday, June 11, 2015

NCUA Needs to Expedite Credit Union Options for Consumers

During the past 18 months, thousands of consumers across the nation have joined the American Consumer Council and its 46 state consumer councils because they want to take advantage of our financial education programs which we host with partnering credit unions. Consumers are also looking for personalized financial services such as low-interest home loans, college loans and chip-and-pin credit cards which several credit unions offer.

But, there's a problem.

The problem is the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) and its Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) has been very slow to approve several credit union applications that will allow them to enlist members of our state consumer councils. Some of these credit union applications have been pending for more than a year. While we understand the approval process takes time, it should not take months and months -- not when consumers are clamoring for more financial services options.

Eight credit unions are awaiting a response from the OCP on the status of their pending SEG applications. Several credit union executives tell us that they were promised status reports or approval letters from the NCUA-OCP over six months ago. But, to date, they have received nothing.

At the American Consumer Council's annual business meeting in San Diego last week, more than 300 consumer-members asked ACC to encourage the NCUA-OCP to clear-up the backlog of associational SEG applications so credit union that have been awaiting a decision to add a state consumer council as a SEG can move forward.

Swift action by OCP will also allow organizations like ACC's state consumer councils to refer more of its consumer-members to local credit unions through our state consumer council network.

We're calling on the NCUA's Office of Consumer Protection to move more quickly and help thousands of consumers -- many of whom have been waiting for over a year on the NCUA-OCP to make a decision -- get the financial services they need.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Corporate Culture Matters

After several years of being relegated to the sidelines, companies are once again paying attention to the significance of their corporate culture. Culture was a hot topic among CEOs and leading consultants in the early 2000s, but it slipped off the radar screen as wild profits and social media ballooned with the new millennium.

But, ironically, culture has returned thanks to auditors and regulators who have discovered that culture matters. In fact, a company’s culture has proven to be a reliable indicator of the company’s vulnerability in terms of risks, employee turnover, compliance complications and legal entanglements. 

At the same time, auditors and regulators are finding that companies that operate with a high performance culture have fewer risks and regulatory concerns because they have developed a balanced among their business operations, profit strategies and customer relationships.

And so, culture is making a strong comeback and once again occupying an important seat in the C-suite.

What is “culture,” and what aspects of culture should a company focus on?  CRI Global CAPS, an international consulting firm that helps companies design and implement corporate culture strategies, defines Corporate Culture as “the blending of your company’s history, heritage, standards, values and attitudes with the experiences of your customers and employees.” Because your corporate culture impacts performance and profitability, it is much more than a simple behavioral model that evaluates the norms and expectations of employees and how they perform their work and interact with customers.

With regard to what you should focus on in terms of refining your corporate culture, there are three key areas known as the Triad of Business Success™.  The three legs are your Business Operations, Profit Strategies and Customer Relations. 
As you look at your relationship with consumers, it’s important to recognize that culture plays a significant role in your bottom line and how consumers relate to your company and brands.

About the Author. Tom Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization.. He can be reached at: 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Consumers Want to Help Credit Unions Grow, but...

Despite an improving economy and growing consumer confidence, there’s still turmoil in the financial world of millions of consumers. The American Consumer Council (ACC), a non-profit consumer education organization, calculates that nearly 32% of all consumer households remain “financially under-water” as a result of the 2008 Great Recession.

According to ACC’s president, Thomas Hinton, “Millions of consumers and American households are still paying the steep price for the irresponsible actions of those major banks and Wall Street investment firms that betrayed consumers and caused financial devastation during the Great Recession. Its repercussions will be felt for another decade.”

And so, it should come as no surprise that millions of consumers have been drawn to credit unions during the past six years. CUNA announced that credit unions surpassed 100 million memberships nationally, according to data collected from credit unions in CUNA’s June 2014 “Monthly Credit Union Estimates.”

In the past 12 months (June 2013 to June 2014), credit union memberships expanded by 2.9%, compared to 2.5% in 2013 and 2.1% in 2012, according to CUNA data. Credit unions added a total of 2.85 million additional memberships over the past year - the largest reported increase in more than a quarter century. And, in percentage terms, the 2.9% increase was the fastest since 2000, according to the CUNA analysis. However, according to CUNA, there was some negative news. Some 54% of credit unions experienced a decline in their membership numbers during the second quarter of 2014.

ACC’s Hinton, said, “This surge in credit union membership growth is just the tip of the iceberg, but it could be blunted if the NCUA fails to allow associations like ACC to continue to partner with credit unions.” Hinton noted that the NCUA has proposed new associational common bond policies that will hurt consumers by limiting their ability to join credit unions through legitimate associations like ACC.

Hinton said, “It makes no sense for the NCUA to create more regulatory barriers for consumers who desperately need and want the financial services offered by credit unions. There’s no question that credit unions have been a life-saver for millions of consumers since the Great Recession as banks are limiting their consumer lending and focusing resources on commercial businesses. Almost half of our new ACC members say they want to join credit unions, but the federal regulators are making it too difficult with their punitive policies and anti-consumer attitude. It’s very frustrating for consumers and credit unions. We don't understand why the NCUA is undermining the very industry it is sworn to protect and sustain.”

Hinton also addressed the need for credit unions to appeal to a new pool of potential members. “When you consider that only 14% of the Millennial Generation (ages 14-28) belong to a credit union, there are millions of young consumers that need to know about the benefits of credit unions. But, if the NCUA makes it too difficult for Millennials to join credit unions, they’ll just go online and deposit their money in a big bank. The end result is credit unions will lose the overwhelming majority of the Millennial Generation to banks, and the financial needs of young consumers will be hurt in the long term.”

The American Consumer Council currently partners with over 47 credit unions across the nation to provide financial services and educational programs to its 148,000 members. ACC has asked the NCUA to continue to allow federally-chartered credit unions to add established national organizations like ACC as associational SEGs.

Mark Wilson is a marketing and public relations manager for the American Consumer Council. He can be reached at:

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why Are No Bankers in Jail?

It’s been two years since the Great Recession ended according to the experts. This is despite the fact that millions of consumer are still suffering the financial pain and consequences of the Great Panic of 2008 that was brought on by a handful of greedy bankers and investment firms. Oddly, no one has gone to jail for their involvement in bringing on the Great Panic of 2008.

Apparently, the Department of Justice concluded that no crimes were committed; there was only bad judgment on the part of the Wall Street bankers and investment firm executives who perpetrated the fraud on the American public.

How does the federal government expect consumers to have faith in our financial system when some 50 or more banking executives and investment firm managers knowingly rigged the system for their own selfish benefit, and caused devastating financial hardship for millions of honest Americans, who lost their jobs, savings, and homes as a result of “poor judgment” by these scoundrels?

While the federal government believes a debt has been paid in the form of nearly $80 billion in settlements from the banks and investment firms who were culpable in this fiasco, consumers don’t see it that way because the average consumer will not see a penny of that $80 Billion. That money will go into the federal treasury. Once again, the guilty go free and the American consumer gets pickled.  It's unbelievable considering it was the American consumer who bore the brunt of the losses in the form of home foreclosures, lost savings, forfeited retirement funds, and lost jobs and wages. And still, no one has gone to jail for their actions.

To complicate matters, once-respected auditors and tax accountancy firms were also culpable in cooking the books and providing misleading financial reports to shareholders and the government. But, they too, have walked away from this travesty with a mild slap on the wrist.

So, if you want to know why so many Americans are disenfranchised with the “system,” you need look no further than the halls of justice. They’re empty.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What Economic Recovery?

Despite a record-setting stock market and stronger job growth, most Americans don't think the economy has improved in the past year, according to a survey released Thursday by Rutgers University researchers. Michael L. Diamond ( offered the following assessment based on the Rutgers research report.

The grim assessment paints the picture of a stressed-out work force that is likely to spend money only cautiously, keeping a lid on economic growth, the authors said.

What do you think: Has the economy improved this year?
"I was surprised to see people are even more negative than they were 18 months ago," said Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers.

The Report comes from a survey of 1,153 workers nationwide, taken between July 24 and Aug. 3 — a time frame that included a barrage of stories about global unrest. But it sheds light on a disconnect between statistics that indicate the economy is gaining momentum and Main Street workers who aren't benefiting. The Rutgers report is titled "Unhappy, Worried and Pessimistic: Americans in the Aftermath of the Great Recession." Among the findings:

• Two-thirds of Americans think the economy is the same or worse than it was a year ago, and 73%  don't expect it to improve in the next year.
• 33% think changes in their standard of living caused by the housing bubble's collapse and the recession that followed will be permanent.
• 78% has little or no confidence that the federal government can help.
• Only one in seven believe the average American is happy at work.
"They're really still suffering the consequences of what happened during the recession," Van Horn said.

Good and Bad Statistics:
The report helps explain a series of data that on its face is a paradox. The Standard & Poor's 500 this week has flirted with record levels. The nation has added 1.6 million jobs during first seven months of the year, the strongest job growth since 2005. And, its unemployment rate has declined from 8.2 percent in March 2013 to 6.2 percent last month.

But retail sales in July were flat from the previous month. And, personal income growth, particularly from wages, has been sluggish.

Consider the negative responses to this key question:
How do you describe Americans at work?

Happy: 14%
Well Paid: 18% 
Lazy: 23%
Productive: 43%
Highly Stressed: 68%
Not secure in their jobs: 70%
Source: John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University

Overall, these response paint a very gloomy picture among consumers, who are responsible for generating almost 70% of the economic spending and growth for America’s economy. 

Is there a solution? 
According to the American Consumer Council, three things can be done to improve the economy and encourage more consumer spending: First, there’s a genuine need for more jobs. ACC supports a job stimulus program that provides tax-break incentives for American companies in the form of a tax credit for every new job they create. Secondly, ACC wants to see less government regulation, especially for small businesses (under 100 employees) to encourage hiring. Finally, ACC supports an immediate increase in the nation’s minimum wage with gradual increases over the next three years to $10.50 per hour.

Given the dismal attitude of so many consumers, action is required now!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Too Many Consumers Don't Feel the Recovery

When the Great Recession began in 2007, the negative economic effects and consequences were immediate. Millions of consumers lost their jobs, homes and spending power.  Five years later, in 2012, the so-called experts declared the Great Recession was over.

However, in 2014, some seven years later, there are still too many consumers suffering from the negative impact of the Great Recession.  Although our economy is growing at an annualized rate of 4.2 percent, the good news isn't reaching the average consumer. Why not? There are three key indicators that tell the real story.

1. Wages are depressed. Since 2007, the average price of basic goods and services including clothing, food and housing has risen by 15 percent. Compare that to a 9% overall increase in wages for salaried employees during the same period. If you consider the 22% of consumers who rely solely on their minimum wage jobs for income, this group has fallen behind by nearly 12% in terms of their income purchasing power since 2007. Adding insult to injury, a recent Rutgers Poll reveals that 57% of respondents have "less or the same amount of earnings and savings today as they did five years ago." In other words, nearly 60 percent of American consumers are cash poor. This is not a good sign.

2. Consumers have lost faith in the American Dream.  Before 2007, over 70% of consumers indicated they believed it was possible to live the "American Dream" -- that is, get a quality education, find a good job, earn enough money to afford a home where they could raise their kids, and have some money left over for retirement or a rainy day fund.

Today, when asked that same question, the number of consumers who still believe in the American Dream has fallen to less than 40 percent. This statistic is alarming because it undermines the very foundation of our nation's economy. If educational opportunities, quality jobs and housing prices are out of reach for 60% of Americans, our nation is quickly becoming "the land of haves and have nots."

2. Consumers Can't Get Loans  Before 2007, borrowing money was easy, perhaps too easy. But, consumers were able to go to their banks and get an auto loan, a college loan, or money to remodel their kitchen. Today, main street banks are not lending money to most consumers because their credit scores have taken a serious hit due to the Great Recession. It's a vicious downward spiral.

While credit unions are trying to come to the rescue and help consumers borrow money, federal regulatory agencies like the National Credit Union Administration have all but frozen the ability of credit unions to enroll new members. This means that millions of American consumers, who seek the financial services of federal credit unions, can't even become members because the federal regulators won't allow federally-chartered credit unions, which they regulate, to add new members through  existing portals like associations and other legitimate groups.

It's a system that is terribly broken and antiquated for today's consumers, not to mention the emerging Millennial Generation comprised of over 75 million consumers between the ages of 14-33 years old, who rely exclusively on the Internet and "financial apps" for their banking needs. Why are federal credit unions being denied the opportunity to serve this group of consumers? It makes no sense.

These are the cold facts. They tell a much different story than what our political leaders and financial experts have been spouting for the past three years. Consider this. If you went to your doctor because you were sick, and they gave you a 50-50 chance of recovery, how would you feel?  The simple answer is "not optimistic!" Well, millions of  consumers are feeling the same way -- not optimistic!

So, here's the bad news. When the American Consumer Council recently asked its members if they were optimistic for their economic future, only 4 out of 10 responded "yes."  When 54 percent of America's consumers tell you that their financial status is "worse today than it was seven years ago," that's a clear indication that the Recovery is not over for most of us. It also calls into question the integrity of those political leaders and financial experts who have declared "good times are ahead for America." My question is, "Which America are they talking about?"

About the Author:
Thomas Hinton is president and CEO of the American Consumer Council, a non-profit consumer education organization with over 148,000 members.  Contact: