Credit unions and all those involved in any way with them have never experienced more uncertain times. Since the horrific tragedy of September 11th, everything has changed. Attitudes, priorities, goals, purchasing decisions; personal safety; transportation; and much more are undergoing constant review. It is painful to look back. It is difficult to look ahead. America tries hard to achieve at least a semblance of normalcy, as the President and other leaders have urged citizens to do. Yet, there is a prevailing anxiety, clearly illustrated 24 hours a day in the media, waiting for the other shoe to fall. And it definitely will. But when? And what form will it take. Will it be covert actions? Widespread chemical warfare? Surgical bombing raids? Who will do what and when and to whom is the question of the day. Perhaps, even as you read this, written only days ago, it, whatever “it” is, has already happened. Perhaps not. It may be tomorrow, next week, or next month. But there is definitely more to come. Meanwhile, credit unions and credit union people more than ever are acting like credit unions. Assistance in the form of monetary donations, volunteerism, and prayers has been most generous. As they always do, credit unions, individually and collectively, are pitching in to help those less fortunate. Kudos to all credit unions and the hundreds of CU organizations, especially the many vendors that serve the CU market, for coming forward. The outpouring of remarkably generous donations of every type are flowing into foundations and other special programs set up to aid the thousands of victims and their loved ones. The superhuman effort to get this country firmly back on track is certainly in high gear. And credit unions are playing an important role. But the credit union industry has other concerns and challenges that must also be dealt with on an ongoing basis. The issues that credit unions were dealing with before September 11, 2001 didn’t go away. They are still around and they are still important. Unless credit unions decide to roll over and play dead until everything is back to normal (assuming there will ever again be the “normal” we once knew), credit unions need to stay focused on the business of credit unions. There may be fewer credit union meetings at which to discuss these key credit union issues still on the front burner, and there may be fewer participants at those CU meetings that do take place, but credit unions can’t simply not do anything until everything gets back to so-called normal. With this in mind, just to remind myself if nothing else, I recently jotted down, in no particular order of importance, some of the ongoing issues facing credit unions. Despite the recent tragedy, the list didn’t get any shorter. If anything, it got longer. Despite everything else going on, here are just some of the issues credit unions and their leadership and suppliers need to continue to deal with: Bankruptcy reform (now on hold); an increase in savings and a decrease in loan volume (excess funds); renewed interest in all manner of privacy issues; growing competition from old and new players; Renaissance Commission recommendations; membership growth; charter conversions (to state, to community, to thrift, to stock, etc.); banking industry attacks and lawsuits; an increase in delinquencies; employee turnover; and an increase in loan turn downs, Plus, a host of issues related to the NCUA ranging from strengthening the federal charter, its annual budget, and overhead transfer policies, to incidental powers, RegFlex, and board leadership. Also, escalating fees; the changing face of credit union marketing; service delivery methods ranging from increased free-standing branches and shared branches to a growing number of high-tech opportunities; products and services mix; risk based lending; CAP (yes, it is still around); the ongoing threat of taxation (will this issue ever go away?); member business loans; and Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) and other H.R. 1151 residue. There’s more: CUSOs today and tomorrow; growing mortgage portfolios (are CUs becoming s&ls?); mergers and liquidations (now at 10,000 CUs, how low will this number go?); selling credit card portfolios to banking industry organizations; CU trust accounts for members; growing incidents of fraud, embezzlement, robbery, and burglaries; national, regional, and local alliances and partnerships; a host of technology issues ranging from a multitude of Internet transactions and aggregation, to more demands on traditional data processing systems; and disaster recovery plans (probably more important than ever). There are also a number of human resource issues on the list: employee training; insurance and benefit packages; discrimination and sexual harassment issues; pay-for-performance; and employee security ranging from armed robberies to natural and man-made disasters (such as those that impacted credit unions in New York and Washington, D.C.). Plus those issues involving volunteers that never seem to go away: the distinction between management and policymaking; term limits and board turnover; consent agendas; the growing need for board education; the future of supervisory committees; board members’ “compensation”; CEO pay, benefits, perks, and employment agreements; evaluation programs for both CEOs and board members. The list goes on and on. Mine barely scratches the surface. The obvious point is that despite the tragedy and the serious economic fallout, credit unions need to stay focused on serving their members at a time when chaos, or at least serious discouragement, seems to be the norm. Since September 11th it is common for Americans to feel that what they once considered very important may now seem somewhat trivial in comparison to world events. In some ways, this is probably true, but that does not mean in any way that what credit unions do is not important. It is. And more than ever, credit union members need things that they can depend on. Credit unions need to be one of those things. Never have credit unions had such an opportunity to prove their value. 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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