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HELENA, Mont. – That “super regional” linkup of four West Coast credit union leagues to share products and services is triggering plenty of discussion among credit union boards and league staffers across the Mountain States and Midwest, but the Montana Credit Union Network, for one, has no plans now to “join our neighbors in a partnership.” But that does not mean “when the timing is right we might not talk to other Leagues” concerning affiliations, according to Steven King, chairman of the Montana Network. “We do want to act from a position of strength, and at some point in time we might begin discussions,” said King, who also is president/CEO of the $28 million Golden Triangle Federal Credit Union of Great Falls. King made his comments as a new chief staff officer takes over the MCUN next month and amidst disclosure of a declining CU membership base due to mergers. The league currently has 80 CU members, down from 130 a decade ago. League officials emphasize, however, that the number of members among Montana CUs has actually grown at a robust pace during the same period. King said MCUN did a membership survey a year ago and “there was intense discussion then” about linkups with other Leagues, but it was determined then to stay independent. The issue was raised again informally following announcement in July of a newly formed CU Association of the West, led by the California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues in conjunction with the Washington State and Oregon Leagues. Although some critics have decried that group as “CUNA West,” its founders argue the organization, which has no paid staff but relies on existing League personnel, will provide broad educational and technical product services to CUs throughout the region. King said there are a number of areas, particularly concerning education and compliance, where sharing with other Leagues may become viable. That’s one reason the League was gratified to hire an experienced executive from the Utah League of Credit Unions to run the organization. Tracie Kenyon Karls, senior vice president of dues supported services in Utah, becomes president/CEO of the Montana League Sept. 4, succeeding Herbert Walberg Jr. who retired in May. Discussing collaboration among state leagues, the acting president of the Montana Credit Union Network, Robert Pyfer, who is executive vice president, said the consolidation of small CUs into larger institutions has been prevalent in Montana for years, as it has in many parts of the country. “Succession is always a tough problem as credit unions find it hard to find people to take over small institutions when managers retire,” said Pyfer, who added the NCUA recently has been a major help in his state with its technical assistance programs. In some cases, NCUA has paid expenses for small CUs, he said. Pyfer said the Montana Credit Union Network already participates in several joint conference programs and ventures with neighboring states. He cited by example the annual Mountain Regional Roundtable sponsored by Idaho, Wyoming and Montana Leagues. The most recent session, which Pyfer described as “excellent” was held last June in Post Falls, Idaho. In addition, there have been discussions with the North Dakota League about joint meetings. Alva Vulkasin, vice chairman of the Montana Credit Union Network and president of the $52 million-Bearpaw Credit Union in Havre, said he is “concerned” about the declining number of CUs in his state which he said reflects “economies of scale.” At the same time, said Vulkasin, “we’ve had just wonderful membership increases” within individual CUs. Karls, the newly-slated Montana Credit Union Network president, said in her talks with Montana CUs she found them “comfortable with retaining independence” but still open to pursuing partnerships, particularly in the education area. She said she will look into sharing opportunities particularly with leagues in Idaho and North Dakota “where there are population centers close to Montana borders.” – [email protected]

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