Seizing the initiative on the federal charter; knowing where we've come from can help us get where we need to go
The longer that it is my privilege to serve as president and CEO of NAFCU, the more I marvel at its early - and continued - successes. The dynamics of a direct membership organization populated by action-oriented CEOs and volunteers does not find us on the sidelines when the interests of federal credit unions are at stake. The fact that NAFCU overcame highly determined opposition, including that of the powerful House Banking Committee Chairman Wright Patman, in securing share insurance has come to define our many legislative and regulatory achievements. Since my arrival at NAFCU, our key concern has been, and will continue to be, enhancing the federal charter. Given NAFCU's history and whom we represent, it is obviously a core issue. It is important to note that the "flip side" to enhancing the federal charter is preserving its advantages. One of the principal advantages to being a federally chartered credit union is that FCUs operate under one set of rules - those of NCUA - and not two sets of rules, federal and state. A California credit card disclosures law that had been scheduled to go into effect July 1 directly challenges the basis for that advantage. If implemented, a FCU that issues a credit card to a member from California would need to supply those members new disclosure notices and maintain a toll-free call center 13 hours each day, every day of the year, to provide an estimate of time and total cost of paying off a consumer's account balance by minimum payments. NAFCU Board member John Milazzo, CEO/President of Campus FCU in Baton Rouge, La., has 5,300 credit card holders and only 83 or 1.6% of that number reside in California. In a declaration filed in court, John estimated that his credit union would incur $92,820 in additional annual costs to establish and maintain a telephone call center as set out in the law. What would be the additional costs if another state enacted a similar law with different requirements? What if all 50 states did so? The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted a stay until November 8, 2002, in response to a request from NAFCU and the other parties to the lawsuit. We now have a little breathing room to better prepare our arguments. I firmly believe, as did the NAFCU Board of Directors, that if we had not directly involved ourselves in this lawsuit, it would be a basic abdication of one of the key reasons why NAFCU was formed: to be an effective advocate for federal credit unions on the legislative, regulatory and judicial fronts. Maintaining the federal charter will always be paramount. If we do not maintain it, trying to enhance it will not get us too far. Accordingly, we will remain vigilant on the former and continue to push hard on the latter. From the onset, NAFCU has moved along two tracks to enhance the federal charter - regulatory and legislative. We have succeeded in moving this issue front and center before the NCUA Board as well as onto the agenda of key members of Congress and their staff. In March 2000, NAFCU formally engaged the NCUA Board in a discussion of needed improvements in IRPS 99-1. The first tangible sign that we were making progress came just two months later at NAFCU's Volunteers Conference when then Chairman D'Amours announced (as reported by a Credit Union Times reporter who broke the story) that he would hold regional directors accountable for approving SEGs more quickly. We have come a long way from that point, with promulgation of IRPS 00-1 and defeat of CAP. Obviously, the appointment of Dennis Dollar as chairman of NCUA has been critically important on the regulatory side with the agency's responsiveness to stakeholders' opinions and its willingness to provide the House Financial Services Committee with a solid list of suggested regulatory relief measures that are now part of a bill ready to go to the House floor. NAFCU has always maintained that not only are NCUA's actions with respect to field of membership legally defensible but that the agency could in many cases go further within the confines of CUMAA and the Federal Credit Union Act. In April, NAFCU wrote a letter to NCUA addressing in detail those areas where we firmly believe the NCUA can dramatically improve the field of membership rules. These areas include common bond definitions, documentation requirements, expedited processing of SEGs, reasonable proximity, voluntary mergers and corporate restructuring. We believe NCUA's victory in the bankers' lawsuit, both at the federal trial and appellate court levels, clears the way for the agency's Field of Membership Task Force to move forward under the leadership of Chairman Dollar. It was also in the spring of 2000 that we began quiet discussions with key members of Congress and their staff in an effort to convince them there were issues that needed a legislative remedy. A number of provisions we initially broached with committee staff and representatives in 2000 are now on the verge of being considered on the House Floor in 2002. The crucial point is that we started early with an intensive education and persuasion effort, responded quickly to the bankers' hue and cry during legislative markup and now have a package of amendments fully tested at the subcommittee and full committee level. We are well-positioned for full House consideration and well-prepared to make our case in the Senate should Banking Committee Chairman Sarbanes wish to take up regulatory relief later this year. Enhancing the federal charter will continue to be a two-track process, where action can be taken on both the regulatory and legislative fronts. As with NAFCU's earlier legislative initiatives, I am confident we can seize the initiative and move boldly forward on issues that are vitally important to federal credit unions.