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Just about the time most of us have almost forgotten about CUNA’s ambitious Renaissance Commission effort, it pops up in the news again. The headlines this time (see page one) have to do with the commission making its report to the CUNA Board of Directors when it met last week in Madison, Wis. The report itself wasn’t all that voluminous, but it represented tons of data collected over the past several months via formal hearings, focus groups, 800 number calls, letters, e-mails, etc. One of the main documents the CUNA Board was given was a single sheet of paper that contained generalized recommendations that were in the form of four separate visions of the commission. Each of these statements is comprehensive, powerful, far ranging, and not without controversy. Each was developed out of that massive amount of grassroots input that the commission eagerly sought and received. But the fun doesn’t begin and end with the vision statements. The bigger job has been given to the CUNA Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC). This group faces the Herculean task of not only making sure the vision statements line up with the voluminous input provided to the Renaissance Commission, but that they interface with the list of 108 separate recommendations that have been compiled from that same data in support of the vision statements. Or is it the other way around? Regardless of the procedure, this much is for sure: the GAC has to prioritize the 108 recommendations and come up with a much smaller number by CUNA’s Annual Symposium next September. And they have to do it by following three guidelines known inside the CUNA structure as PPR. You aren’t supposed to be able to pronounce PPR, but you should know that it stands for Possible, Practical, and Realistic. In other words, if a recommendation doesn’t meet the ultimate PPR test of being realistic, it probably won’t make the final cut as one of those initiatives that CUNA policymakers and professional staff will strive to make happen in the foreseeable future. No one ever said getting from Renaissance point A to point Z was going to be easy. But CUNA CEO Dan Mica and his crew continue to believe strongly and enthusiastically that it is a task that can be done. “For a change, credit unions will be in charge of their own destiny rather than continually being in a position of reacting to something negative that the banking industry throws at us,” is the way he put it in a recent discussion. Mica reminds anyone who will listen that the much praised, but also maligned H.R. 1151, was in no way a credit union modernization bill. Unlike the recently enacted banking modernization bill. In reality it was a credit union rescue bill, according to Mica, So, will the ultimate result of the Renaissance effort be a credit union modernization bill? Not necessarily according to Mica. More realistically (there’s that word again) it will be a positive start for credit unions to get the laws and regulations in place that will make it possible for credit unions to better serve millions of members and potential members. But it has to happen one step at a time. Just reading the vision statements, without having even seen the 108 recommendations, it seems to me that if this entire Renaissance effort results in but one significant change, it will all have been worth the tremendous effort it entailed. Like what? Like this: “Credit unions through their boards of directors must have the right to determine their own fields of membership to enhance safety, soundness, and service.” There’s that controversy I referred to earlier. In this one sentence from the vision statement entitled, “Field of Membership,” there will be those both within and outside the world of credit unions who will protest that this is giving credit unions a wide open field of membership. Others, like me, will feel it is allowing boards to set membership qualifications for their own credit union within safety and soundness parameters. Whatever is eventually decided to go forward with, the biggest challenge will be for every possible segment of the credit union world to get on the bandwagon. There is no way lawmakers or regulators will play referee if various factions of credit unions advance their individual causes. Now is the time to disagree and thrash out compromises, not later. Although Renaissance is a CUNA initiative, NAFCU, NASCUS, the state leagues, and all types and sizes of credit unions will have to buy in to the final proposals if they are going to succeed. That’s just the way the game is played. It is the only way things like this get done according to seasoned lobbyists. What it all comes down to has been neatly summarized in the very first Renaissance Commission recommendation to the CUNA board: “The purpose of credit unions is to promote the economic well being of all people through a Credit Union System which is cooperative, member-owned, not-for-profit, and therefore tax-exempt; to provide a secure financial alternative for all consumers, and to provide financial and related products and services to members.” I think that the words “Credit Union System” are out of place because that is a CUNA term that is not all encompassing as it should be. Other than that, turning that lofty statement into specific legislative sand regulatory proposals that will be acceptable to lawmakers and regulators is of course easier said than done. The current three-person NCUA Board is a plus, but it will undoubtedly change before the proposals are ready to go forward. Congress has already undergone substantial changes so a needed educational job has already been undertaken in anticipation of their consideration of the credit union proposals. How much success there will be is anybody’s guess. However, if all credit union interests present a united front and pull together, that success level could be high. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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