NAPERVILLE, Ill. – Small credit unions in the state have been getting some assistance from the Illinois Credit Union League Service Corporation in preparing their long term strategies to compete effectively in the future. Ron Culen, vice president of regional management for LSC said it’s still too soon for the CUSO to determine how successful its small credit union consultation program is, but judging from the turnout at the various chapter meetings he said, “things are going well.” Over the past six months, Culen has met with about 11 of the 27 credit union chapters in the state to talk with them about the program. He intends to visit with the remaining 16 during the first half 2002. LSC’s small credit union consultation program is based on a 1999 Filene Research Institute study and CUNA Mutual Group’s “Guide to Superior Member Services” for small credit unions. That study looked at 1,800 credit unions throughout the U.S. with assets between $5 -$10 million and assessed their differences. It compared the top 400 thriving small credit unions to CUs in general, and a group of 400 shrinking CUs. The study concluded that the thriving CUs’ willingness to be involved with emerging lending systems and technology is what determined their success. It wasn’t the size of the credit union that was the determining factor, but the CU’s interest in taking advantage of these resources that accounted for its continued vitality. About 60% of the nearly 600 credit unions in Illinois have less than $10 million in assets. “We try to impress on the credit unions that even though they’ve chosen to be a plain vanilla credit union, they need to change or the world will pass them by,” said Culen. “They need to ask their board of directors what are they doing to perpetuate the credit union.” For many small credit unions, planning a long term strategy may be a first time exercise. Some of them, said Culen, aren’t accustomed to thinking five years down the road. For these credit unions, Culen works with them to set 12-18 month strategies, including expanding their field-of-membership so they’ll have room to grow. “We’ve lost so many credit unions in Illinois over the past 25 years, mostly through mergers,” said Culen. “I tell the small credit unions if they want to stay off the merger list, then they have to have a long term strategy. “A lot of them haven’t looked at the big picture,” Culen continued. “They’re mom and pop shops that have always done what mom and pop want. Things have gone well for them for the past 20 or so years. But times have changed. Many of them are almost completely loaned out and have to do something to either cut back on their expenses or increase their income. They’re running on tight bottom lines. I want them to start considering things differently than they have in the past.” -ekingoff@cutimes.com