EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Continental Federal Credit Union Director and Former Board Chairman Allan Cooper is not one to back away from a fight to preserve consumer choice and the cooperative nature upon which credit unions wer founded.
For Cooper those are not just lofty ideals but concepts that speak to the very core of the credit union legacy. No stranger to credit unions, Cooper's mother had been a credit union member in the '50s. He became an active member 48 years ago, in 1960, when after discharge from the Army Security Agency, he went to work for the Telephone Company in Santa Monica, Calif. At the time he earned $1.57 an hour and needed a car loan, and the General Telephone Company Credit Union was there for him. He was hooked.
According to Continental FCU President/CEO Thomas Glatt, Cooper's love of the membership is "very apparent in every discussion, every decision made by the board."
"Some people collect things. I was interested in giving my free time and energy helping the credit union," said Cooper. "Surely, the interesting and creative activities to help modernize Continental Federal's systems and operations as we had for the airline was an attraction but the main reason I had for being a part of the credit union was to be able contribute for the benefit of my fellow employees. I joined the Continental Board of Directors at the invitation of Bob Buell in 1977 and have been enriched by the experiences, and blessed with the satisfaction in our accomplishments in serving our members."
That code of serving members helped the $176 million credit union defend itself from a hostile takeover attempt by Wing Financial Credit Union in 2007. According to Cooper, who has dedicated over 30 years of board service to Continental FCU, the potential merger did not bring any compelling value to the membership and the board's responsibility was to protect the interests of its entire membership short-term and long-term.
"It was an obvious attempt by Wings Financial to grow its own business at the expense of Continental FCU members," said Cooper. "The nature of this hostile takeover posed a direct threat to the entire credit union system. It showed callous disregard for our credit union principles and codes of conduct, and undermined our philosophy of mutual assistance, cooperation and support."
Despite Wings Financial having a nine month lead planning its takeover campaign, launching an aggressive campaign with comprehensive materials and collaterals and having more resources, financial and in terms of manpower, Continental FCU succeeded in defending itself and the industry from the unprecedented hostile takeover in less than two months. Cooper said preserving the differentiation between credit unions and other financial service providers is essential for the future success of the credit union movement.
"Yes the credit union industry will go on for many years. The degree of success is dependant upon issues like taxation and regulation," said Cooper. "Self-dealing, poor judgment and aberrations like the Wings intrusion attempts will continue. The vigilance, loyalty and commitment by most of the thousands of credit union people, regulators, and of our great trade associations will continue to protect our very special movement."
Looking ahead he added that consolidations into larger credit unions and the further deterioration of field of membership franchise exclusivity would continue.
"The questions there are: can smaller or even medium size credit unions remain effective and prosper, and is this good," said Cooper.
As for the fate of credit union boards, Cooper said with the growing importance of board member participation and skills and increasing regulatory demands on their time and talents, it may be time for a few changes.
"As we all know so well, the business is no longer a simple process of collecting shares and manually dispensing loans. The complexity and obligations are far greater. The cost of operations, the skills required, and the burdens of regulatory compliance seem to be endlessly growing," said Cooper. "It makes me believe that the tradition and rules against board member compensation must be relaxed or retired. A serious consideration and change is due."
Cooper will be retiring from the board this year to make room for "young blood" and he said what he's enjoyed most about serving on Continental FCU's board is meeting and working alongside a great group of people for so many years.
"I would love to see a young borrower get in there and take my place," said Cooper. "With the business combinations in today's environment and renewed emphasis with other groups they don't need a bunch of 60-year-old men running things."