Conversions, Cards, and White Hats (Damn Good PR)
There are three dominating topics in credit union land right now and I want to tackle them all right here based on recent news events.
Before one more credit union decides to convert to a bank charter, they should pay very close attention to what's happening at those credit unions that failed in their attempts to convert, notably DFCU Financial and Columbia Community CU.
DFCU Financial continues to fight legal battles with a member group that opposed the conversion. It's not that the credit union is losing in all these legal battles, but the time, energy and money--not to mention bad PR--of fighting them has to be hurting the credit union.
The CU did win on whether or not it had to hold a special meeting to recall board members. Although enough members signed a petition to call the meeting, the CU refused to do so and a court agreed, basically saying that if the federal regulator--NCUA--didn't feel it worthy to get involved in the dispute, how could a federal court?
I said it a few months ago when NCUA announced its position to do nothing about the denial of the special membership meeting, and I'll say it again--when it comes to conversions, NCUA is playing a weaker and weaker role, no matter what new regs it passes. The court system will be called on more in the future to settle disputes that NCUA believes are too politically dangerous given the Texas conversion debacle. If this court's rulings are indicative of future decisions, member groups opposing conversions are in trouble. Kudos to Michigan CU League President Dave Adams for calling NCUA's decision not to get involved a "terrible precedent." Remember how important precedent is folks, whether it's regulatory or political, let's hope CUs don't get burned deeper down the line on this.
Moving further out West to Columbia, and that board and management faces a continued nightmare over board seats. The members group in that conversion effort is still trying to rid the CU of some holdover board members from the conversion attempt. The dispute, which again has wound up in court, is over term limits of the board, when they started and when they started to apply to certain board members. The CU has been forced to postpone its board meeting to consider the impact of the ruling. Think about it? What about the members? What are they thinking when the CU sends them a letter that the annual meeting is postponed because of a court ruling? Not good on any level.
Can anyone recall any good news on credit cards? I hear the term credit cards these days and I think of nothing but bad things, bad for consumers and bad for credit unions. Just last week the latest stats on card usage and debt finds that Americans are at an all-time high level of indebtedness to cards. The saddest finding however is that low-income families are in the worst shape. Those who can afford it the least are getting gouged the most.
Credit unions are now starting to pay the higher insurance coverage rates--as high as 300%--pushed through by CUNA Mutual on their card portfolios making it more expensive for credit unions to keep offering cards.
There are new card frauds popping up everyday. I went to a major security conference in New York City where high-level security leaders told me they avoid using their cards at all costs because card security cannot be guaranteed in the U.S. Not very comforting if the experts don't trust the cards.
Pennsylvania State Employees CU did the right thing and sued wholesaler B.J.'s to try to recoup card reissuing costs from a breach at the retailer, but it lost!
Just last week Wescom announced its deal with industrial loan corporation Silvergate was dead because of the heat on the ILC charter. Wescom was going to utilize the ILC charter to be one of the good guys in card portfolio acquisitions, which continue at a heavy pace. But Wescom is now out of it, another negative event for the card world.
On to some very good news--credit unions fulfilling their role as the good guys, the white hats. Wait a minute you say, credit unions have always been the good guys. To that I say big deal if you and I and everyone in credit unions knows that, the general public has to know! And that's just what happened in a few instances recently.
First in Oregon, could the good guy PR be any better? An Oregon credit union--Unitus CU--played host to the governor's press conference about a state initiative to curb payday lending abuses. The role credit unions can play was a main theme. That's a bull's eye. That's a check in the good guy column in the general public awareness game. This is great and although some say Oregon CUs were pushed into this because the regulator a few years ago was critical of Oregon CUs going after community charters without a plan to curb payday lending, the CUs have responded.
More white hat news came from the 11 credit unions in Ohio that joined together to form Credit Union Outreach Solutions, Inc. to offer an alternative to high-cost payday loans. The CUSO used the example of a member taking 12 advances of $250 at 18% would cost $78, whereas from a payday lender it would be over $350. The loans require an annual fee of $35 for a $250 loan and $70 for a $500 loan to cover potential losses. Loan requirements are as easy as six-months of verifiable income and that the member be in good standing. This is a solid, reasonable payday loan alternative that these CUs deserve credit for getting involved in and getting their story heard. It was picked up on a number of trade and financial sites.
Let the good news continue.