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<p>As someone who writes a weekly column of comment on all things credit union, it should come as no surprise that I think about credit unions and credit union people a lot. Mostly these thoughts are positive, reflecting on all the good that credit unions have accomplished over the years in serving a growing number of members. And the zillion ways they have accomplished so much. But I also think about a number of not-so-positive things about credit unions that frankly bother me. For example, it bothers me that credit unions so often find themselves playing defense. Of constantly being in a position of reacting rather than acting. It bothers me how frequently credit unions don’t speak, make proposals, and write letters, etc. until they have been attacked. A winning team must also consistently play good offense. Just ask the Green Bay Packers. It also bothers me that far too many people directly involved with credit unions can’t articulate the real difference between for-profit financial institutions such as banks and not-for-profit credit unions. Mostly because they really don’t know the difference. Sadly, that includes many full-time staffers of state and national credit union groups from Washington, D.C. to Madison, Wisconsin. It bothers me more that they don’t know that they don’t know. They end up saying some pretty dumb and damaging things to the press. Like this CU teller’s actual comment: “Credit unions really are no different than banks except we are much smaller.” For years it has bothered me that the credit union industry has so few real leaders. That the credit union industry is loaded with elected chairmen at all levels who don’t make a difference whether they serve one year or 20 years. That too many CU and credit union national and state organization staffs embody the Peter Principle. That many in credit union leadership positions operate as two-bit politicians with not-so-hidden agendas. That the real leaders are often at the CU level. That they are frequently labeled rabble rousers, malcontents, mavericks, or worse. That insecurity stands in the way of more consent agendas. It is bothersome that so many credit unionspeople are so political. Ask any new credit union CEO coming in from the outside. Or any of the current CEOs of the major national credit union organizations. Credit union volunteers being overly political is bad enough, but it is especially bothersome that paid staffers so frequently engage in down and dirty politics within the credit union community. Ask any CU CEO who has been unceremoniously dumped with an internal move straight out of left field. Those who lie bother me. Representatives from the banking industry who deliberately misdefine a credit union. Me-first political hacks who talk out of both sides of their mouth and only get on bandwagons when a sure thing is in sight. Nervous regulators who back peddle in an effort to cover their tracks. Competing credit union groups vying for solo credit for industry achievements. Credit union staffs that embezzle and give all credit unions a bad name bother me. I’m also bothered by poorly trained CU staffs. And overstaffing. And underpaid staffs. And CU marketers trying and failing to also serve in a public relations capacity. Credit union CEOs who think they own the credit union bothers me. So does that small number of CU CEOs just getting by until retirement. The lack of board turnover bothers me. The reasons long-time directors give as to why so few younger people serve as credit union volunteers is also bothersome. It bothers me that about 25% of CU CEOs will retire in the next few years, but only a fraction of directors will step down during that same period. It also bothers me that there are so many credit union groups. Yet new ones are being formed all the time. And that many long-time organizations don’t stick to their knitting. And constantly expend resources in an attempt to try and reinvent the wheel. And that they hold too many meetings-bad meetings. Too many canned speeches. Too few front burner issues on the program agendas. And print too much stuff that goes directly into the trash can. And it really bothers me that the organizational confusion at the national level defies description or understanding. What else bothers me? Crazy “fields of membership.” The game playing that credit unions must engage in to continue to grow. Prompt corrective action (PCA). OTR, the overhead transfer rate, and methodology for setting it. Credit union delinquency ratios that are too low (far less than 1%). Capital ratios that are too high (well over 10%). Loan turn down percentages that are too high (45% and higher). Also, that payday lenders appear to be replacing credit unions as a lender of last resort. That credit unions are making such a high percentage of mortgage loans that they are in some cases beginning to look like the old savings and loan associations. It follows that it bothers me that credit unions are converting to bank charters. It bothers me to see volunteers with larger educational budgets, traveling more but seemingly knowing less. It bothers me that some of these volunteers treat staff badly. But it also bothers me that some staffs have little respect for volunteers. Teamwork on the surface but charades in reality. What probably bothers me more than all of the above is the obvious fact that too many individuals involved with credit unions seem to forget that all the money that it takes to conduct this flurry of activity comes from a single source. Everything that involves credit unions is funded by credit union members. It bothers me that these members are not always at the top of everyone’s priority lists. So the final question becomes: “What bothers you about credit unions?” Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]</p>

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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