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<p>LAS VEGAS-It isn’t everyday credit unions hear compliments coming from the mouth of a banker. But that was exactly what American Bankers Association (ABA) President James E. Smith did when he commented that credit unions’ lobbying efforts in Washington were superior to the banks during a speech given at the ABA’s community banking conference in Las Vegas last week. Smith admonished the bankers to get out of their banks and onto the Hill. He pointed out in a follow-up interview that credit unions, though a much smaller industry, have been beating the banks in the race to the Hill, and especially noted the HR 1151 battle just four years ago. He complimented the credit union community on their grassroots efforts and hoped the banks could adopt and execute a similar lobbying strategy. “The credit union industry has done very well against the banking industry.” Smith admitted. “Numbers do count.” He listed real estate brokerage (which Smith said does not exclude credit unions from participating in real estate brokerage), deposit insurance reform, and identity theft as top legislative concerns from bankers this year. CUNA Vice President of Political Action Richard Gose hammered in the point that everyone has a story to tell but a key component is allowing legislators “to hear from a number of people with stories that are real that will resonate with them.” He commented, “If the bankers can replicate this, they will be successful.” However, he added, “I think we not only have a story to tell, but we have truth on our side.” NAFCU Communications Manager John Zimmerman also commented, “Until banks start looking like credit unions, I’m not sure if it’s going to be too successful.” The chief of the nation’s largest banking trade association said that he has heard from some bankers around the country that credit unions could pose some serious competition in the commercial lending arena if they are able to participate in Small Business Administration-backed business loans. He added that the bankers are sure to oppose credit union attempts to get involved in these loans. Smith opposed tax-exempt credit unions being able to participate in a tax-supported Government Sponsored Entity program. “If you don’t pay, I don’t think you should be able to play,” he said. Currently only community-based credit unions are permitted to participate, according to SBA policy. By lobbying against credit unions participating in SBA-backed lending, Zimmerman said, “They’re not hurting credit unions as much as hurting the small business that need the loans.” Smith also noted that credit unions are increasingly gaining more clout in Washington and a greater market share. According to Smith, credit unions have set an industry goal of doubling their assets to $1 trillion by 2010. “I can assure you, if they can achieve that, they will be unstoppable,” the American Banker quoted Smith as saying during his speech. He later explained further, “I think if the [credit union] industry doubles-obviously credit unions are a formidable foe today-but if the industry doubles it will make it harder for the banks to block legislation that will hurt the industry.” The credit union trade associations are taking Smith’s remarks as a compliment. Zimmerman said that aside from outdoing banks in customer service, the credit union community should take this as a “compliment because they recognized we do something exceedingly well.” And CUNA is not too surprised bankers would want to adopt credit union lobbying tactics, but it will not deter the organization from continuing its course. “We expect the ABA to continue doing their job like we’re doing ours,” CUNA Public and Congressional Affairs Manager Jennifer Gore said. Smith also highlighted the fact that credit unions have already raised over $1 million in political action committee (PAC) funds and that the banks have just broken that benchmark. Smith said he was disappointed with the banks fundraising abilities, particularly considering the significant size difference between banks and credit unions. “Our people need to open their billfolds a little bit more,” he remarked. He credited the strong economy over the past decade with weakening the individual bankers’ interest in getting involved in Washington.Smith received a standing ovation from the community banking conference attendees. [email protected]</p>

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