In recent weeks there have been a number of news stories and related developments involving credit unions that deserve comment. Here is a brief look at just a few of them: * The CO-OP Network, under the capable leadership of its CEO Bob Rose, continues to make impressive headlines on a regular basis as it moves towards becoming not only a nationwide credit union ATM network, but one of the largest ATM networks in the country. For example, through an agreement just reached with Access Cash International, Inc., the CO-OP Network will expand to where it will have a presence in all but one state (Nebraska) with 12,000 surcharge-free ATMs. It is interesting to note that Rose and Company did it on their own, working cooperatively with individual credit unions (772 member CUs with nine million cardholders) what CUNA’s so-called Williamsburg Project set out to do following a CUNA CEO Roundtable meeting in Williamsburg three years ago. Haven’t heard much about Williamsburg lately? While the CO-OP Network successfully went about its business, Williamsburg never really got much beyond the talking stage. That hasn’t prevented CUNA’s Chairman Dave Maus from taking credit for the CO-OP’s recent accomplishments. Note this Maus quote from the July 30th CUNA Newswatch reporting on the successes of the CO-OP Network: “The vision of the Williamsburg group is becoming reality,” Maus smiles. “This truly gives us a national network.” I would guess the CO-OP Network leadership isn’t smiling much over that remark. * With the expiration of her term on the NCUA Board, Yolanda Wheat has announced that she intends to stay on as a holdover board member until her successor (possibly Iowa State Senator Joanne Johnson) is named to a new six-year term by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Johnson, rumored to be the leading candidate for the job, is the daughter-in-law of Don Johnson who served as executive director under former NCUA Chairman Roger Jepsen. So here’s how the three-person NCUA Board looks today: It has an acting chairman, a recess appointee, and a lame duck. * The American Banker newspaper’s survey, which has been conducted annually for more than a dozen years by the Gallup pollsters, has once again given credit union officials cause to crow, but perhaps not as loudly as in past years when the satisfaction gap between credit unions and banks was considerably wider. Credit unions still garnered a 75% “very satisfied” ranking, but for some reason, thrifts bolted upwards from 51% to an impressive 68%, a mere seven points behind CUs. Banks also improved over last year, rising from 51% to 58%. The most disturbing finding, however, was that, believe it or not, the consumers polled ranked banks ahead of credit unions in the trustworthy department. Hopefully, credit unions are already trying to determine why this happened. Recommendations are needed to get CUs back on top in this important category ASAP. Meanwhile, perhaps certain credit union leaders fond of thumping their chest about how members trust CUs and not banks, may need to tone down their rhetoric a bit. * The long-awaited Renaissance Commission recommendations (almost 100) are out and they are taking a beating. Some close-to-the-scene observers are saying privately that in hindsight, it might have made more sense to first whittle down the wish list to a more manageable and realistic size. That will be done, of course, before any specific legislative and regulatory proposals will be made. But by throwing the entire list against the wall, some feel it has given detractors, especially banking industry lobbyists, a ton of ammunition for stepping up their ongoing anti-credit union rhetoric. For example, almost immediately, the American Bankers Association (ABA) sent a letter to all members of Congress pointing out that Renaissance recommendations are concrete proof that credit unions need to be stripped of their tax-exemption. A completely unscientific Web site poll by Credit Union Times is so far showing that not all the troops within the credit union compound are ready to throw themselves on their swords for Renaissance. In the poll’s five choices from “They’re right on the money,” to “They are missing the mark,” the latter has been checked off most by far. CUNA needs to wage an all out education and public relations campaign on all fronts if Renaissance is going to have a chance of achieving its lofty goals. CUNA CEO Dan Mica is on the right track in asking credit union folks who have said they don’t like it to tell him specifically why not. * Headlines are also being made by credit union growth. Although the total number of credit unions continues to decrease, the amount of total assets and members is rising faster than ever. Don’t be surprised to see almost 85 million members and close to $500 billion in assets figures before very long. One illustration of many: The world’s largest credit union, Navy Federal, is on its way to the $15 billion in assets mark with now more than two million members in its ranks. Finally, also in the news: credit unions being able to offer trusts nationwide, individual credit unions partnering with insurance brokers for member products, creation of major new CU e-commerce and CU Human Resource entities, and a loosening of NCUA volunteer expense reimbursement policies to include “a guest.” Also, dozens of credit unions, many quite large, converting charters and greatly expanding their potential membership base, corporates introducing new services including core processing, CUs shedding their credit card portfolios to banks, bank and credit union fees going up, the number of consumer checks written going down, single sponsor CUs being replaced by their sponsor’s new bank, and get this.according to a survey by the Credit Union Executives Society (CUES), the annual base salary increases for the CU CEOs expected to cope with all this are going down. All of this is but the tip of the iceberg. It’s become a wild ride! Stay tuned! 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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