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When CUNA’s Renaissance Commission initiative was first announced, I thought it was a good idea with a lot of promise for credit unions, and I said so in this space. Now I am not so sure. Since my initial positive feelings that all credit union interests could come together (didn’t happen) to benefit from this exercise, there have been many developments that trouble me. Here are just a few of them: * After months of gathering input, the final package will be decided this week over the phone. World events surrounding September 11th necessitated that CUNA’s Annual Meeting (held each year in conjunction with its Annual Symposium) in San Francisco be cancelled. The Symposium will not be held this year. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) will be. It has been rescheduled as a teleconferencing event this week, on October 30th. Shouldn’t something as important as approving a package of vision statements and related final recommendations that are expected to go forward as legislative and regulatory proposals be decided face-to-face? If the Renaissance Commission project lives up to its own ongoing hype, this could be the beginning of a comprehensive effort to change and improve credit unions forever. And considering the costs already incurred, is that not worth a rescheduled meeting to thrash out the details? Or is everything cut and dried before the teleconference meeting takes place? We’ll know shortly. * Also troubling: when initially released, the original vision statements were longer and more complex than any vision statement(s) should be. Worse, the relationship between the vision statements and the nearly 100 initial recommendations was unclear. If the specific recommendations were intended to flesh out the vision statements, it never really came off that way. The only vision statements credit unions needed in an endeavor of this magnitude was this: “Credit unions visualize that every man, woman, and child who wants to will have the opportunity to join a credit union.” What else needs to be said? A vision statement is a “what” to do. The “how” to do it doesn’t belong in a vision statement. Nor does all the extraneous detail ranging from tax exempt status to special interest inclusions such as corporates and private insurance. That should come with the specific recommendations. They are the “how.” * It is also troubling that the first drafts of the vision statements, and all of the supporting recommendations, were immediately given such widespread distribution. Sending them to Congress was a mistake. The rationale was that Congressional leaders would have found out about them anyway. Maybe. Maybe not. Even if they did, so what. They were not being asked to act on anything yet. In any event, it would have made more sense for CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Committee (GAC) to pare them down first and gather widespread credit union support. Yes, they were introduced as recommendations that were “possible, plausible, and realistic,” but wouldn’t it have made more sense to only put out for public consumption those that are most realistic rather than get everyone all in an uproar? Unfortunately, those in the uproar included politicians, regulators, the banking industry, of course, but also a larger-than-expected number of knowledgeable credit union dissenters including some pretty big hitters like Navy Federal, the world’s largest credit union, as well as other CU trade groups. * As troubling as that was, what happened next is more so. Back peddling became the order of the day. The credit union politicians, while still asking for credit union input, began the arduous task of watering down the proposals on the one hand, and beefing up the old Norm D’Amours standbys on the other hand. Suddenly “modest means,” a term that defies definition, was again front and center. So-called fields of membership (FOM) and common bond went back to square one. Basically no change. Credit unions can look forward to the continuation of the ridiculously inconsistent approach that is now being used. Approval of credit union FOMs will continue to be one big game-playing joke. (See news stories in every weekly issue of Credit Union Times.) By putting more emphasis on such things as the role of the volunteer and the contents of a Treasury report and by backing off from letting CU boards set their own membership qualifications, and from previous recommendations regarding such important areas as capital accumulation, restructuring NCUA/NCUSIF, it makes me wonder if the entire effort was just so much busy work. It would have been a lot more efficient to put some credit union people in a room and not let them out until they all agreed on a modest number of “realistic” recommendations. * Especially troubling is the weaving of references to the long-standing CU tax exemption throughout the revised vision statements. That makes no sense. Is that what the original Renaissance Commission was all about, namely, protecting and preserving the tax exemption? I thought it was about dreaming. About ways to improve credit unions. About ways to make credit unions more available to those wanting, and more important, those needing them. Instead, it has become defensive. Most troubling of all, it advances the faulty logic of the banking industry and one of its former spokesmen, D’Amours, that the tax exemption is based on modest means, volunteerism, product and service offerings, CU size, etc. The all-important number one reason, structure, rates a mere passing reference. I suspect that about this time, CUNA CEO Dan Mica must lay awake at night wondering why he even bothered to try and do something that had such a great potential to help credit unions grow, prosper, and better serve members. * Finally, what troubles me more than anything is that I have seen firsthand, over and over again, that the majority of credit union people aren’t really for it, or against it. When pressed, they admit that they know little if anything about this entire effort and could care less. What a shame! 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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