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Over the past 18 months or so, credit unions and the growing number of organizations that represent them, seem to have gone on a binge in creating alliances, partnerships, cooperative ventures, special interest CUSOs, and new entities of all types. The alleged purpose of this organizational frenzy, such as the newly created CUNA Network Services and the CUNA Mutual Group’s HRValue Group, is to supposedly fill some void in the credit union support system. It would be logical to assume that with the dozens of credit union groups already in existence, that at least one or two of the new organizations would have been created to replace one or more of the old groups. Not so. There are just that many more credit union organizations out there to serve the shrinking number of credit unions that are expected to use and ultimately pay for all of the new offerings flooding the credit union scene. Of all of those recently reported in Credit Union Times, the one that especially caught my eye was the brand new Credit Union Association of the West (CUAW). It seemed to come out of nowhere, even catching other league CEOs by surprise as it was announced and put in place seemingly overnight. If in fact it has been in the planning stages for some time, it was a well-kept secret. So was the need it claims to be ready, willing, and able to serve. What is it? Apparently it is a formal alliance combining four Western leagues, California/Nevada, Washington, and Oregon, that is expected to provide whatever it is that the individual leagues can’t do as well solo. Just curious: why isn’t the Hawaii League in the mix? Did they choose not to participate even though the Hawaii and California leagues have long done cooperative ventures, particularly in the area of educational meetings? Initially CUAW will have no staff of its own but will utilize the resources of the involved leagues. It will, however, have a governance structure (seven-person board) made up of representatives from the four leagues (three from California and two each from Washington and Oregon). At the outset it will not charge separate dues, won’t have its own publication(s), won’t sponsor awards and recognition programs, or put on still another regional conference intended to attract a national following. How are you betting? Yet, from the outset, the Credit Union Association of the West is attempting to establish a distinct identity for the group. For example, at the time of its announcement, a new logo was already in place. And based on information the group has released, the new association has laid out for itself an ambitious agenda, much like a real association. What kinds of activities will the new association undertake? High on its priority list is providing networking opportunities for credit union CEOs. Sort of like the long-running CUNA CEO Roundtable? The group’s leaders, basically three league CEOs, also are anxious to produce a master educational calendar even though CUNA, virtually every league, and any many others such as this publication have produced comprehensive CU meetings listings for years. The apparent duplication continues: the group also expects to get involved in support programs for small credit unions, research projects, and compliance efforts. Also anticipated are publications and awards programs (Oh? See above.). A Web site (www.thewest.org) is already up and running. CUNA will especially like this: joint efforts might also include government affairs issues such as lobbying in Washington and regional cooperative advertising. So much for the so-called credit union movement presenting a united front by getting on the Renaissance Commission and Branding Campaign bandwagons. The new group dismisses any thoughts of the involved leagues duplicating each other’s products and services, claiming that they will in fact complement each other. The distinct offerings of one league, they say, can now be made available to the other member leagues. The obvious questions are, why is another association needed to foster what should be normal cooperation and sharing among state leagues? And, isn’t doing this type of coordination something that the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) has long claimed to be one of that group’s main reasons for being, but especially since it reorganized and changed its name and focus? Had the idea for such a super regional league been floated out for comment before being announced as a done deal, there are some questions that might have been asked of its founders. Is there really a need for another layer between credit unions, leagues, and CUNA? Isn’t CUAW a step backwards from what the much touted CUNA Renewal Plan set out to accomplish, namely, a direct, stronger voice for individual credit unions? Were the credit unions in the four states ever asked for their input? Was CUNA? Does all of this indicate that I am opposed to leagues cooperating with each other? Absolutely not! Leagues have a long-standing track record for sharing and jointly sponsoring everything from leadership conferences to cooperative marketing efforts. The most important question is, why do leagues need still another formal organization, a separate fiefdom, to do what they have already been doing for years? What is most disturbing to me is the announced intent for CUAW to get into areas that credit unions pay national credit union trade groups to handle for them. If Congressional leaders have been confused over who really represents credit unions in the past, the problem will certainly get worse when a representative shows up in Washington representing the Credit Union Association of the West. The CUAW may also accomplish something not intended. It may spur other leagues to undertake similar couplings. Why not a Credit Union Association of the South? The North? The East? The Midwest? The Southwest? The Southeast? After all of these super-regionals are established, they could meet and put together an umbrella group and call it the National Association of Credit Unions (NACU). 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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