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WASHINGTON-San Mateo Credit Union President and CEO Barry Jolette, CUNA vice chair and heir-apparent to the chairman’s seat, does not believe in setting an overall theme if and when he does become chairman of CUNA. But, if you twist his arm, the one thing he would like to continue in his leadership role at the trade association is fostering a sense of unity among CUNA, the leagues, and credit unions. “Disunity gets us nowhere. Strength comes from not just one part.” Jolette said. “It’s like a religion to people. We become zealots. We become zealots about what’s good in credit unions.” One trend that does not demonstrate the unity of credit unions is the recent conversions of credit unions to thrifts. While Jolette is not overly concerned about the issue, he does not think it is appropriate. “I don’t think it speaks of people who believe in credit unions,” he said. This and other items fall under Jolette’s jurisdiction as current CUNA vice chair and chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC). While he will certainly be involved in advocacy, which Jolette emphasized is most important to CUNA members, as CUNA’s chairman, he will no longer chair the GAC, a job usually relegated to the vice chair. As GAC Chairman, Jolette was involved in one of CUNA’s most significant and talked-about missions of the last 12 months. In its final stages, the Renaissance Commission has adjourned, the GAC has offered its suggestions on the Commission’s report to the CUNA board, and as part of the board, Jolette and others will consider what items CUNA should pursue and which ones are better left alone. Letters about the report from RenComm-as it is affectionately known within CUNA-are still coming in. According to Jolette, the letters run the gamut from total support to “you all are crazy.” However, the typical letter, like that of the Vermont Credit Union League, expressed overall approval with a few `buts’ attached. Vermont’s concern was with alternative capital. While the RenComm’s mission was to dream big, the GAC’s job was to whittle away the implausible and present the board with the political realities. As with any large group, strong controversies have arisen between many in the credit union community. According to Jolette, that is just par for the course. “It would be absolutely impossible to make everybody happy,” he said. The point of RenComm was to get every point of view heard, but that does not mean to appease them all. While there was controversy on issues, like alternative capital, one item came out loud and clear. “The one that comes across is don’t give up our tax-exempt status,” Jolette said. And that is very definitely something that he stressed is “not tradable for anything.Taxation is not in play as far as we’re concerned.” However, other items on the RenComm wish list were not so black and white. One item that Jolette said really got under the skin of some in the credit union movement was the suggestion in the visions statements that credit unions define their own fields of membership. “While the Renaissance Commission didn’t intend it this way, a lot of people took it as open fields of membership,” he said. Jolette said that the issue was not removed in the GAC’s report, but moderating language was suggested. Alternative capital was another hot item on the wish list. Many were concerned that alternative capital could destroy the cooperative nature of credit unions. In an attempt to mitigate this situation, the GAC clarified that member capital deposits are what the Commission is after, not the authority to offer nonmember shares. “The members should drive the credit union,” Jolette explained. One of the recommendations that many in the credit union community questioned was the separation of the NCUA from the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). Jolette said that while credit unions generally feel NCUA uses [the NCUSIF] to spread its wings too far,” the GAC recognized that this is probably not something CUNA is willing to take to the Hill. Credit unions fought very hard to have an independent regulatory agency and an insurer separate from the FDIC, which this type of action might jeopardize. Additionally, Jolette said that NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar has been very open to ideas on how to streamline the agency’s budget and to set the overhead transfer rate (funds taken from the NCUSIF to pay for insurance related expenses to the agency) at a fair level. However, Jolette said, “NCUA’s got a long way to go before we’d accuse them of being overly thrifty.” At this point, GAC felt it would be wiser not to pursue a formal separation between the regulatory agency and the insurance fund. The same situation is true for private insurance alternatives. Instead of recommending federal credit unions be authorized to obtain private share insurance, the GAC is suggesting the board allow for more alternatives at the state levels. Currently, only 300 credit unions have private insurance, but Jolette predicts there would be more if more states allowed. While some say private share insurance would create a stronger dual chartering system, others fear that the insurer would try to become another regulator. One of the reasons some credit unions objected to some of the RenComm suggestions was because they were afraid the banks would be provided more ammunition, Jolette pointed out. “I would be shocked if the bankers didn’t attack on virtually everything,” Jolette said. But that is not the point; the point is “if you don’t have a program, they’ve won already.” [email protected]

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