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: