Troops Muster Against Durbin Effort
The industry furor over the interchange amendment passed by the Senate and sponsored by Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), marked by a no-holds-barred grassroots campaign, continued at a feverish pace last week via a flood of e-mails, phone calls, petitions, rallies and high-profile visits to lawmakers.
By mid-week CUNA estimated that nearly 100,000 in-person or e-mail contacts by CEOs, employees, volunteers, members and industry advocates had been made to urge House-Senate conferees to delete the interchange restrictive language from the reform bill.
A number of CEOs said they were prepared for the worst if the amendment becomes law and may decide to pass along to members any increased costs.
Still, there were others who said they would be taking a wait-and-see attitude before tacking on any new fees.
"I could lose $4,000-$5,000 a month in revenue, and that's not something to look down on. But I think I'll wait and see how this all shakes out before I start raising fees. I know the consumer is bound to get hurt," said Douglas Thompson, chairman of the Mid America Credit Union Association and president/CEO of Aberdeen FCU in South Dakota.
Like other CEOs pressed into lobbying mode by CUNA and other trade groups, Thompson said he "would love to be in Washington" to help out CUNA's impromptu Hike the Hill rally slated for this week, but must tend to his association duties for the annual meeting opening this week in Sioux Falls.
As an alternative to his being there, Thompson said Mid America's government affairs staff is arranging a special visit "around the time of the Washington rally" with Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat and key member of the conference panel that will take up the Durbin amendment.
Meanwhile, CUNA, state leagues and NAFCU were waging a furious grassroots advocacy effort, enlisting a host of online tools, websites and videos to encourage wide participation by CU representatives, members and the public at large to contact key lawmakers.
For one, the New Mexico Credit Union Association, meeting in convention last week in Santa Fe, set up a Little Guy computer booth in a hotel lobby encouraging guests, including nondelegates, to send e-mails to Capitol Hill. And Patriot FCU in Chambersburg, Pa., supplied computers at teller stations and in its lobby for members to send letters to their respective congressmen. It also provided letters for members to sign at the credit union, all to be mailed and faxed to D.C. offices.
There were also efforts to cooperate with banks in joint op-ed articles placed in Iowa's largest newspapers under the guidance of the Iowa Credit Union League.
But in Texas, one effort hit a snag.
Yvonne de la Rosa, vice president of corporate relations and chief advocacy representative for the $2.8 billion SACU of San Antonio, said she made a contact several weeks ago with her counterpart at a local bank about joining together in the interchange blitz, but the bank CEO apparently rejected the idea.
The SACU offer was to have San Antonio representation of financial institutions during the CUNA Hike the Hill fly-in, since "we felt strongly that local financial institutions could follow the example of CUNA, the Texas Credit Union League and the Independent Bankers Association of Texas in opposing the Durbin interchange provision," de la Rosa said.
De la Rosa declined to identify the bank that spurned the offer, maintaining "we want to work together in the future on issues of common interest." She said she has extended a second bid to another local bank, also unidentified and so far, "We haven't heard back."
De la Rosa along with CEOs of many Texas CUs took part in a previously scheduled Texas Hike the Hill in early May, so it was doubtful the Texas delegation to the Washington Hike the Hill would be large. As one CEO put it, "We've blown that budget for now."
Several state leagues, as a way of emphasizing the urgency of the issue, cited an estimated $15-$35 per debit card annual drop in revenue if the amendment is enacted.
The Missouri Credit Union Association reported this amounts to "a 90% cut in yearly interchange revenue on debit cards." And so, "if you're one of the few still not convinced that you and your credit union should be seriously involved in our nationwide grassroots effort, consider the $15-$35 figure used to offset fraud, data breaches and reissuance," warned the Vermont Credit Union Association.
The Vermont group noted that the Federal Reserve Board, under the proposed amendment, would have the power to set interchange fees based on processing costs.
"Processing is only about 10% of interchange," suggested VCUA, noting that the rest goes to cover fraud, reissuance, R&D, reward programs and for Vermont credit unions to continue debit cards, an estimated $3.5 million in lost revenue will have to be made up somewhere.
In anticipation of a sizeable crowd of Pennsylvanians headed for D.C., the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association has hired buses and set up special stops across the state to pickup CU attendees and chapter leaders.
"The association is extremely grateful for the hard work and dedication of credit union and chapter leaders who have contacted legislative offices and are planning to travel to Washington next week," said PCUA in a message to members. Of 80,000 national contacts early in the week to members of Congress, "more than 1,700 are coming from Pennsylvania."
"Keep the contacts coming for this is a tough and uphill battle," warned the trade group.