MADISON, Wis. -- In a ramped up anti-credit union attack by bankers on Community Reinvestment Act compliance, the Wisconsin Bankers Association said last week it has introduced a bill in the state legislature aimed at the "large, nontraditional Wisconsin credit unions" that need to document serving low income and minorities.
The bill, introduced Feb. 28 in the Wisconsin Assembly and later amended, would subject CUs over $100 million in assets to CRA-like rules in line with banks, said the banker trade group.
The Wisconsin Credit Union League countered that the proposed legislation is an attempt by the banking industry to avoid scrutiny on its role in serving low-income consumers.
League officials, calling the CRA bill a desperate move to draw CRA headlines and focus attention on CUs, said the bill has drawn scant interest by Wisconsin lawmakers considering late last week the bill had just one sponsor, Representative Mark Gottlieb (R-Port Washington) with only a week left in the session.
However, the WBA pointed out there is nothing stopping the measure from coming up during a special session later in 2008.
And as for the single sponsor, the WBA noted that Gottlieb "is one of the most respected members of the legislature. He would not have put his name on this bill if he did not believe it addressed a fundamental unfairness in the financial services sector."
Brett Thompson, president/CEO of the league, said CRA compliance is absolutely unnecessary and if enacted "would apply costly regulation to credit unions and jeopardize their ability to operate as member-owned non-profits."
"Not one valid study points to a need for more regulation of credit unions," Thompson said.
"So why propose a new regulation, along with the significant cost it would mean to taxpayers--just for the sake of regulation?"
The WBA, pointing to its own study and others, cited what it said were critical remarks of CUs in a GAO report and the bank-linked National Community Reinvestment Coalition showing CU performance in CRA is "lackluster" at best.
"This bill is not just about creating regulatory parity between competing financial institutions," said Kurt Bauer, president/CEO of the WBA who has long been a champion within the affiliated American Bankers Association to push CRA compliance against CUs.
The Gottlieb bill, he said, "is about insuring that taxpayers and lower income consumers receive the social benefits they were promised in exchange for granting a multibillion dollar tax subsidy to an increasingly aggressive member of the financial sector."
The Gottlieb bill, noted the WBA, "also formalizes a process to allow a state-chartered credit union to convert to a state-chartered mutual savings institution."
Regarding the CRA provision, Thompson of the league noted in a press release distributed to Wisconsin media that CRA was enacted "to ensure that banks adequately meet the financial service needs of all segments of the communities from which they draw deposits."
"The law was never applied to credit unions which save Wisconsin consumers $176 million annually in lower rates on loans, higher rates on savings and lower and fewer fees," said Thompson adding that CUs "exist to serve members, not make profits. A recent federal hearing, however, scrutinized banks' failure to satisfy the spirit of CRA."
Statistics show, he went on, that "even though credit unions are not subject to CRA, they do a better job than banks in approving mortgages and providing basic services in low-income communities and to minorities."
"The 2006 federal data shows Wisconsin's low-income mortgage borrowers' approval rate is 78.7% at credit unions compared to 48.5% at non-credit union lenders. For minority mortgage applicants, the credit union approval rate here is 84.6% compared to 55.4% at non-credit union lenders. Credit unions also operate 40% of all depository institution branches in the state's low-income census tracts. By contrast, 94% of all Wisconsin banks -- including 12 of the largest 20 -- have no branches there," Thompson concluded.