All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence." These are the words of Martin Luther King Jr., whose dedication to equality and freedom from poverty and oppression will continue to inspire for centuries to come. It is fitting that a federal holiday was established to honor him as his ideals and accomplishments represent what the United States was founded upon integrity and freedom for all.
However, as the United States headed into Jan. 22, we were all reminded of how fortunate we are to live in a developed society by the Jan. 12 earthquake that rocked impoverished Haiti. Not only were homes and businesses toppled and human lives lost forever, but its historically unstable government does not have the resources to help its people recover.
Our thoughts are with those stricken by this wrath of nature, including those who are there by choice such as the contingent from WOCCU that is working on creating a better economy in one of the poorest nations in the world. Bringing the credit union philosophy there will not only serve to improve the financial standing of the people of Haiti and educate them on financial matters. It will also introduce the people to democratic and capitalist fundamentals that can aid them in all areas of their lives and provide them greater control over their own destinies.
Meanwhile in the U.S., one credit union that is moving forward to preserve its own future is Goldenwest Credit Union in Utah. When a local bank closed its doors, the $715 million Goldenwest reacted nimbly and creatively to the news by opening its doors on Martin Luther King Day and creating specials for bank customers who joined them. The credit union staff even dared to hand out flyers in the bank's parking lot. Bold genius. Goldenwest continually updates its conversions on Twitter. This tweet from @BenJoeM2, a Goldenwest employee, says it all: "I can set a clock by how often the FDIC comes out and tells us to stop giving flyers out. (every hour)." What a great marriage of old-school shoe leather and social media, which was certain to increase the buzz exponentially. The local Goldenwest branch set a record for most accounts opened at a single branch. This is a truly impressive campaign and one that can be easily replicated.
See and be seen. That's what credit unions are trying to accomplish these days with the American public, but the NCUA's gag order on WesCorp CEO Philip Perkins reminds me of what my mother used to say: "Children should be seen and not heard." Like an errant child, the agency has silenced this legitimate and informed source of information regarding the corporate credit union proposed regulations.
Last week I did a Webinar for the National Cooperative Business Association on public relations. I used the NBA's attempt to quash the picture of Wizards player Gilbert Arenas, who is accused of pulling a gun on a teammate in the locker room, finger guns ablaze as an example of precisely what not to do. Trying to eliminate negative press rather than working with it only draws more attention to the problem. This is precisely what Chip Filson demonstrated with his latest column "Why NCUA's Silencing of WesCorp Was a Terrible Mistake and How to Correct It" (www.creditunions.com), in which he not only criticized the NCUA, which is not a big surprise coming from him, but he also posted WesCorp's letter to members and it's 25-page analysis. American democracy would not exist without a free press.
But what of the free market? President Obama has announced he wants to limit the size of banks, mergers, investments and the intermingling of various parts of the financial services market. While the banking industry, among others, got greedy and overstepped the bounds of reason, I'm wary of efforts by the government to interfere with the free market. Often these attempts are done in knee-jerk fashion and for reasons that are not always in the best interest of the public though that's the usual guise.
Basically, the administration's proposal would "ensure that no bank or financial institution that contains a bank will own, invest in or sponsor a hedge fund or private equity fund?unrelated to serving customers for its own profit" and "limit consolidation of our financial sector." On the surface, credit unions would not have too much to worry about from the first provision, and it could sound reasonable. The second point is more targeting the Citigroups of the banking world. However, credit unions should keep an eye on both items, just as some credit unions were originally roped into the systemic risk tax intended to protect taxpayers from large bank failures.
At the same time, could these restrictions create more competition for credit unions? Just something to ponder.
In making the announcement, the president noted, "My resolve to reform the system is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform. And when I see record profits at some of the very firms claiming that they cannot lend more to small business, cannot keep credit card rates low and cannot refund taxpayers for the bailout.? It is exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary." Credit unions really need to jump on this statement and use it for all its worth in lobbying and press efforts, from expanding business lending to ensuring that credit unions are not roped into reforms that were not intended for them.
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