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<p>Several recent events make it clear that there’s more than one way to look at something that on the surface may appear to be pretty much black and white. Take for example, discussions revolving around the attempt to modernize the widely despised CRA (Community Reinvestment Act). It appears to be a simple and straightforward effort to bring up to date an act that has been on the books longer than the banking industry cares to remember. But history shows that nothing involving the government, politics, lawmaking, and regulations, etc. is ever simple or straightforward. What might be starting out as a modernization effort could end up as something completely different. Once there’s an opportunity to get a foot in the door, the chances that CRA will remain as is are less than nil. The attempt at modernization of CRA regulation could easily become a golden opportunity to include more than banks. Current talk indicates that there is a certain amount of support for including the insurance and securities industries under the CRA umbrella. Can the inclusion of credit unions be far behind? Especially in light of the current flap over the year-end demise of CAP (Community Action Plan)? After all, the banking industry is already on record that credit unions, particularly large community credit unions, should be included under CRA. On the other hand, maybe modernization will end up simplifying CRA? Or even deciding that it has outlived its usefulness? Don’t hold your breath. That’s not the way the system works. Once established, regulations don’t go away but instead take on a life of their own. CRA modernization bears close watching. While the credit union industry is busy fighting the CAP battle, CRA modernization could easily evolve as a much bigger threat. Another example of things being other than what they seem involves a great on-the-scene color photograph that appeared prominently on page one of the March 6th edition of Credit Union Times. It featured all three members of the NCUA Board and CUNA CEO Dan Mica. In a dramatic show of unity, something that has been lacking on the NCUA Board and in its dealings with the credit union trade groups up until recent appointments, the four were all smiles in the picture as they raised locked hands skywards. Pretty black and white stuff, right? The packed ballroom at the GAC saw firsthand CUNA and NCUA officials presenting a united front showing that they were on the same team. Not long ago, such a photo opportunity couldn’t have happened because the players were pretty much at odds with one another. So the GAC audience showed its support for the love in with wildly enthusiastic applause. To add to the impact of the moment, it occurred during NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar’s upbeat speech. But wait a minute. Should the federal regulator really come across as being on the same team as one of the credit union trade associations that represents those that they regulate? I don’t think so. The prior adversarial relationship between individual board members and between NCUA (at least as demonstrated by certain former board members) and CU trade groups certainly needed to be improved. And it has. But does the photo make it seem like it has gone too far in the other direction? Shouldn’t there be a certain distance between the regulator and the regulated? For a long time the banking trade groups have accused NCUA of being more of a cheerleader for credit unions than a regulator. What’s their reaction to such a photograph? Does that picture show a bit too much chumminess between two organizations that need to work together but not sleep together? Should Dan Mica have been in the photo? Would it have made more sense to just show NCUA Board unity for the first time in a long time? For those who see nothing wrong with the photo, another question arises. Although for some reason never formally introduced, NAFCU’s President/CEO Fred Becker was also at the GAC. Should he have been included in the photo? Wouldn’t that more accurately show industry-wide cooperation? A final example of things appearing different: After 50 years of finding ways to bash credit unions, it would seem that it would be difficult for bankers to come up with anything new. Not so. The current chief elected official of the ABA, in a recent Las Vegas speech to community bankers, proposed that the bankers conduct a Million Banker March in Washington to protest the growth, success, and existence of credit unions. If we don’t do something dramatic like this , he said, there will be no stopping them. I hope his ridiculous idea catches on. It would be great for credit unions to have the nation watch bankers (how ever many they can assemble) make complete fools of themselves utilizing a strategy that up to now has been reserved for significant causes that at least some of the American people could relate to. But expecting the public (and the media) to care about bankers protesting about a much smaller competitor? I don’t think so. Of course it will never happen. Bankers just don’t practice effective grassroots like credit unions do. Might interfere with their tee times. And customers, unlike members, could care less. In that same speech, a warning was sounded that credit unions have set a goal of achieving collective industry assets of $1 trillion by 2010. Where did this come from? Credit unions have no such goal. Credit union number goals are membership based, not money based. Mr. Banker needs to be more concerned that a credit union industry goal is to make it possible for every man, woman, and child who wants to can choose to become a CU member. It just seems like bankers can’t find new ways to stomp on CUs, but apparently they can. 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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