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WALKERSVILLE, Md.-Activity in Washington jumped right out of the starting gates this year with immediate action on bankruptcy reform, an economic stimulus package, two new NCUA chairs, and many other credit union-related issues. Unfortunately, following the doldrums of the August congressional recess, news picked up again with the terrorist attacks of September 11 in Washington and New York. In fact, I was heading into Washington for an interview at CUNA and the Credit Union House opening when I heard on the radio of the plane crashing into the Pentagon. Heading into the `war zone’ makes you think about moving to the mid-West. But, life must go on, even in Washington and New York. The credit union trade associations based in Washington demonstrated this through swift executive decisions, patience, and persistence. Almost immediately, the offices of CUNA and NAFCU were shut down or employees were permitted to leave at will. The two sister trade associations and NASCUS quickly decided, for safety and practicality reasons, to cancel or postpone their large annual conventions, regardless of the financial losses to be incurred. Members of the groups approved of the decisions wholeheartedly. There was no doubt that the lobby groups were doing an excellent job of representing their constituents in the aftermath of the acts. CUNA and NAFCU also started raising money for victims of 9-11. Despite the distractions of raising funds for victims, canceling the conferences, and the tightened security around the Capitol area, CUNA and NAFCU continued to send messages to the Hill. But these were different. They wanted to let lawmakers know that the credit union spirit would not be broken in trying times and that credit unions were there to help in anyway they could. In only a couple of weeks, reports began of anthrax-tainted mail; first in Florida, near Credit Union Times’ headquarters in West Palm Beach, and then again in Washington and New York. Washington mail delivery was temporarily halted, but the credit union trade associations worked around this too. Letters were faxed, e-mailed, or hand delivered. Of course, once fairly free travel around Washington was possible, lobbyists were climbing the Hill again. For a reasonable time, the groups relayed their September 11 recovery efforts rather than the typical legislative pushes. CUNA and NAFCU each tout different styles of getting things done. An analysis of their leaders exemplifies this. CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica represents the group with his knowledge of the ways of Washington and media savvy, aiding CUNA in getting its message across to Congress and informing its members of the progress of advocacy efforts. On the other hand, NAFCU President and CEO Fred Becker’s boundless energy and guy-next-door attitude make for a likeable and sincere combination. The two trades also have different modus operandi. CUNA represents both federal and state chartered credit unions, including 90% of the entire movement in its ranks. This serves it well when mobilizing grassroots efforts, such as that supporting the passage of the Credit Union Membership Access Act (CUMAA). Particularly with its system of leagues, CUNA is able to send and receive messages to and from all corners of the credit union community. However, some divisive issues inside credit unions, like the setting of the overhead transfer rate (OTR), could split the membership, leaving CUNA with decisions to make. In the instance of the OTR, the group advocated setting a “fair” rate. NAFCU, in contrast, specifically represents the interests of federal credit unions-though it does claim some state chartered members-and only about 10% of the entire movement (for comparison purposes). Included among its members are the largest federal credit unions, though many are members of both CUNA and NAFCU. NAFCU mainly operates out of one office just outside Washington, but boasts members nationwide. While some credit unions appreciate the extensive CUNA three-tiered system, many also like to be able to contact their trade association and speak directly to the head of their lobbying team, compliance expert, or the CEO. For a time, and I believe still, it was Mica’s position-though not CUNA’s-that CUNA and NAFCU should merge. Aside from all the practical reasons for making such a move, like presenting a united credit union front, this would be doing the credit union community a great disservice. Each group’s work and operations present advantages to every type of member. Bankers vs. Credit Unions When will they ever learn? The bankers remind me of Wile E. Coyote in relentless pursuit of the Road Runner. Defending against attacks from the bankers is one area where not only the credit union trade associations come together, but also the regulator. Following the passage of CUMAA and the subsequent updating of the field of membership regs, the American Bankers Association (ABA) filed suit, claiming the regulation violated the law. The district and appellate courts dismissed the ABA’s suit as lacking merit. I have never quite understood the bankers’ obsession with running credit unions out of town when credit unions are subject to much stricter regulation and hold such a small percentage of the market. Drawing from my personal experience, I am eligible to join a handful of credit unions of various sizes, none of which is closer than a 45-minute drive and one as far as 900 miles. Despite technological advances and electronic banking, I would still have to pay ATM surcharges to get money out. Of course, between one and two miles from my home are one large and two community bank branches, any of which I can choose. This observation is not only a commentary on the banker Goliath versus the credit union David, but also on the differences in the fees between credit unions and banks. Banks fees may be higher, but many consumers are willing to pay for that convenience. The NCUA Board, thus far in 2001, has shown cohesion and professionalism the agency has lacked for some time. Every vote at an open board meeting this year has been unanimous. With the December meeting, expected to bring the repeal of the Community Action Plan by a vote of 2 to 1, political infighting may rear its ugly head again. One NCUA official has accused Board Member Geoff Bacino of playing to the Republicans in hopes of extending his stay, while Bacino has defended his decision on CAP with the record number of underserved area expansions. From a journalist’s perspective, it’s much more interesting to cover the politics behind the scenes rather than constantly reporting `this measure passed unanimously.’

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