A Potpourri Look At the World of Credit Unions
It is time to take another potpourri look around the credit union world and make some observations. Most reactions to a recent column highlighting some of the things I think credit unions can do without have come in on an off the record basis. Understandably. A credit union CEO said my list should have included CU boards, referring to them as "more of a hindrance than a help." A board member said supervisory committees should have been on the list calling them, "outdated and unnecessary especially at larger credit unions." A friend (I think) said kiddingly (I think), "Mike Welch should have been on that list." One more I would have included in that original column if I had had room was this: speakers at meetings of credit union volunteers who tell the audience that CU boards should meet at least three times a year without their CEO in the room "as a means of relieving pressure on board members who might be more willing to sound off without the CEO in the room." Added one such speaker, "board chairmen should first take the CEO aside and explain that there is no reason for the CEO to feel threatened by these board-only meetings." Yea, right! Another high-profile credit union industry CEO bites the dust under the business world's most misused two words, "he resigned." This time the "resignation" label was placed on U.S. Central's CEO Dan Kampen as he vacated his office quickly and unexpectedly. Let the speculation begin as it has every time one of these departures makes the front page of Credit Union Times. Sometimes credit union groups manage to keep these things secret. Like the fact that almost a year ago one of Kampen's top senior staffers, Bob Amundson, Senior Vice President of Correspondent Services, slipped quietly out the door. Seems that often times press releases are only issued when the door swings inward. Directly related, in a Kansas City Star news story on Kampen's departure, the reporter called U.S. Central a "bankers' bank." Later in that same story he described the corporate where Kampen had worked earlier in his career a "sort of bankers' bank for Ohio credit unions." The lack of media knowledge about credit union entities is appalling. I would assume the U.S. Central PR staff set the reporter straight on the credit unions' credit union? Don't bet on it. Speaking of PR, the credit union folks in Mississippi know how the game is played. According to league CEO Charles Elliott, league staff made sure the writer from the Mississippi Business Journal had the credit union facts in hand before he wrote his story rather than wait till a damaging article appeared and then set forth the CU position in a letter to the editor. As a result, the article headlined "Credit Unions-Banks Battle Continues on Capitol Hill," contained a number of credit union facts that shot big holes in the banker's usual anti-credit union rhetoric. Facts like the average deposit in the state's largest credit union (Keesler FCU) is $100. And that banks hold 99% of business loans in Mississippi (CUs have .004%). And that the banks in the state hold $42.1 billion compared to $2.6 billion in CUs. The article also contained statements on the not-for-profit credit union structure and a defense of the tax-exemption. Elliott saw no need for a letter to the editor. When the entire banking industry supports something involving credit unions it should be pretty clear that it is not something that is going to benefit credit unions and their members. Case in point is the enthusiastic support the state and national banking trade groups have given to those well-publicized Texas credit unions who want to live out their lives as banks. If that many banking organizations have spoken out in favor of the lawsuit those credit unions have filed against the NCUA because of the charter conversion controversy, it can't be a very good lawsuit from a credit union perspective can it? Same old story: what is good for credit unions, bankers automatically think must be bad for the banking industry. Sometimes even when banking lobbyists win they lose. The big banker victory in Utah a year or so ago has been anything but. I was reminded of this when the $78 million Horizon Credit Union became the 16th credit union in that state to convert to a federal charter as a direct result of the banker-supported unfavorable legislation enacted in Utah. All 16 (and more to come?) of these charter conversions have got to gall the CEO of the state's largest bank, Harris Simmons of Zions Bank. Ironically he will be the next chief elected official of the American Bankers Association. Simmons is fond of telling everyone within earshot that his number one objective as ABA chairman will be to rein in those "out of control" credit unions no matter what charter they operate under. Good luck! Probably even madder than Simmons is the Utah State Treasurer who has to sit idly by as funds once earmarked for state coffers trickle into Washington. The once well-known and oft quoted Kiplinger's Newsletter has weighed in with their take on how credit unions have done and will do on the lobbying front. Kiplinger predicts that the CU lobby will be ineffective "again" against the banking industry. More specifically the publication claims that every year when credit union representatives propose raising the cap on business loans, the bankers are successful in blocking it and they'll do so again this time around. On what is this prediction based? Nothing. But then Kiplinger apparently thinks the credit union industry has been pushing member business loans and attempting to raise the MBL cap for centuries. And that the banking lobbyists always end up on the winning side. Guess they didn't have time to do their homework before writing the story. Comments? 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