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Sept. 11 dawned as a beautiful day in Washington. Not a cloud in the sky, the air was dry and the temperature was expected to remain comfortable throughout the day. As optimistic as the day looked, so were many of us as we prepared to deal with issues before the federal government that would have an impact on credit unions. Bankruptcy reform legislation seemed it would finally be considered in conference. Efforts toward “regulatory relief” for credit unions and other financials were on track. Credit unions were talking about what they would be in the future. All of that changed at 8:49 a.m. that day. When the airliners tragically slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside, the world in which we live and work changed forever. Not only did it change as a result of the terrible loss of life and the violence done to our national security, it changed our focus and our priorities. Because we are no longer a nation at peace. Congress, notably, shifted its focus almost immediately. What had been a looming debate over the federal budget dissipated within seconds as attention shifted to national security issues, the onset of war, and anti-terrorist measures. Financial institution-specific measures such as bankruptcy reform and regulatory relief were brushed aside as lawmakers turned their attention to beefing up efforts to combat money laundering as a front-line assault on curbing terrorism. In fact, we’ve been told explicitly by key lawmakers that what was important before Sept. 11 is now on the back burner, where it will likely stay for the weeks-and perhaps months-ahead. As the following week arrived, it became clear that change was sweeping over the economic landscape as well. In its efforts to reassure the financial markets and head off a recession, the Fed cut interest rates again-in the discount rate’s case, to its lowest point in 42 years. But it didn’t work-the Dow Jones dropped farther in one day than ever before, and the talk of recession only increased. The impact on credit unions is imminent. Savings levels at credit unions are likely to rise considerably in the weeks and months ahead, as members seek a “safe haven” for their money in the wake of market volatility. Perhaps more significantly, members tend to save more (rather than spend) in times of uncertainty-which, now, is no less than war. There’s more change ahead, too, as credit union priorities shift. Defense credit unions will begin concentrating on serving their members deployed, increasingly, to new and unusual locations. Credit unions serving airlines and other transportation sectors will emphasize helping their members, perhaps thousands of them, to weather hard times. And, for the vast majority of credit unions, the challenge will be to maintain loan growth in pace with savings, to ensure financial strength. (Remember just a year ago, credit unions were talking about a “liquidity crunch” as loan-to-share ratios reached an all-time high?) How quickly things have changed. Call it what you like-a sea change, a paradigm shift, or a revolution-much has been turned upside down in two weeks. Spawned by a despicable act, this change nonetheless is or will be having an impact on nearly every segment of the credit union community and the issues and events that are most important to the movement. More than one person said on Sept. 11 “things will never be the same.” How right, and how far-reaching, that statement was. The key to dealing with change is responding to it quickly and with determination. Here are some examples of how the credit union community turned on a dime to begin dealing with the changes in front of it: * Continental Federal Credit Union (whose membership includes Continental Airlines employees) was last week already working on policies to help members reduce or defer loan payments (among other things), in response to the airlines’ announcement it would be laying off 12,000 employees. * The New York State Credit Union League last week set up a command center in Manhattan near “ground zero” of the demolished World Trade Center, to provide on-the-spot assistance to the dozens of credit unions affected by the terrorists’ attack. * CUNA cancelled its Symposium, which promised to be the most exciting and among the best-attended ever, out of a concern that credit unions had more pressing business at home (e.g., serving their members) following the attack. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we felt the Symposium’s goal of providing an environment of networking and educational opportunities would be unattainable, given the circumstances. Since Sept. 11, many priorities have been altered in response to the events that have shaken our nation. Working with the leagues, CUNA will strive to ensure that credit union interests are represented and met during this time of change. But in doing so, we won’t take our eyes off of the long-term goals and needs of credit unions. Witness the “regulatory relief” legislation, for example. While lawmakers have told us it won’t be a priority as we deal with this national emergency, they’ve also told us not to stray far from the telephone: Regulatory relief will be dealt with in time, and credit union grassroots will be needed. And that goes with a number of other, important issues, including bankruptcy reform and “faith-based” lending. When the time is right, working in conjunction with and taking our cues from our allies in Congress, we will once again emphasize the resolution of these issues. At the same time, we haven’t abandoned work toward the credit union community’s vision for the future, through the Renaissance Commission recommendations. With all of the change that credit unions are facing, the commission’s work is the potential linchpin to the future for the credit union community. To ensure that this vision is openly developed and is thoroughly considered by credit unions, the CUNA Board of Directors has rescheduled its final consideration of the Renaissance Commission recommendations for Oct. 30. (More information will be forthcoming about how credit unions can get involved in this final stage of the process.) The attack of Sept. 11 had a profound impact on our nation and on the credit union community. Credit unions are already at work providing their members with the financial services they need to get through the tough times. At the same time, CUNA and leagues are supporting their members by helping them deal with the changes in priorities that are now rippling through the credit union community. Yet, even though priorities have shifted for the time being, we are keeping our eyes on the long-term, to ensure credit unions have the options and flexibility to best serve their members in the future. So much has changed so quickly-but not the determination of credit unions to serve their members, and of CUNA and the leagues to serve credit unions.

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