Battle for Hearts and Minds Lafayette Conversion Fight Heats Up Online as NCBA Hosts Opposition Site
KENSINGTON, Md. -- The battle over whether the $332 million Lafayette Federal Credit Union will change its charter to that of a mutual bank has gotten hotter online as another organization has sponsored a Web site about the conversion.
The National Cooperative Business Association, the leading national business association for cooperatives, has launched a Web site designed to impact the voting in the Lafayette FCU conversion balloting.
NCBA hosts the site on its servers, but said it also worked with the Maryland and D.C. Credit Union Association and members of Lafayette from both the Small Business Administration and USAID in developing its content.
The site, savemycreditunion.coop appears devoted to the topic of credit union-to-bank conversions, but does specifically focus on Lafayette's attempt. Art Jaeger, spokesman for the NCBA, said the site may evolve to address the conversion question generally after Lafayette completes its balloting.
"This Web site is dedicated to education about credit union charter conversions--most recently the attempts by Lafayette Federal Credit Union's (LFCU) management and Board of Directors to convert to a mutual bank," the Web site's home page states.
"As you examine the menu of featured updates, resources, and options, keep in mind the motives and effects of converting a credit union to a bank."
The association participated in an August rally featuring Washington, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) that called on the credit union to delay the conversion balloting until after members learned more. Jaeger said that the NCBA is "completely comfortable" with a site that will convey its opposition to all conversions, which the NCBA puts in the context of the conversions of all cooperatives to for-profit businesses.
The site posts a letter from Holmes Norton and Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D) on the conversion, news stories and information about conversions and compensation to CU executives and board members from such conversions.
The NCBA started its new site as a member- run site, savetheCU.com, continued to oppose the conversion.
That site, which is structured more as a Web log or discussion site, has been organized by William Brooks Jr., the son of former Lafayette CEO William Brooks and a former Lafayette employee. Brooks currently works for the $256 million Washington Telephone Federal Credit Union, but said he plans to relocate soon. He said he had started the site to focus discussions on credit unions and technology, but he converted it over to the conversion issue after the Lafayette proposal hit the news.
The site has drawn the attention of Lafayette's leadership. Michael Hearne, CEO of Lafayette, called Dan Stake, CEO of WTFCU, to let him know about Brooks' involvement with the site. Stake said that he had not known about Brooks' involvement, but added that the site had nothing to do with WTFCU.
Brooks has not found moderating the site necessarily easy and has removed posts from the site whose messages, he said, appeared meant to cause trouble and which he doubted came from members who were authentically members of the CU.
One member who had posts removed and who asked his name not be published, argued that he was not seeking to cause controversy, but to participate in the discussion even though he supported the conversion and had already voted for it. He said the site appears to only be for those who oppose the conversion. The member said he joined Lafayette some years before when he lived in the D.C. area and had maintained his connection with the credit union even though he moved away, taking advantage of the CU's direct deposit and online banking features. He also acknowledged that he likely has a different relationship with Lafayette than other members since he does not use the branches and has not used the credit union for loans. Rates and federal insurance are what drew him to join, he said, and those could be had from another financial institution as well.
As of press time, Lafayette had not commented on savemycreditunion.coop. --firstname.lastname@example.org