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<p>LOS ANGELES – Beth Dooley would like nothing more than to make life simpler for state-chartered credit unions in California. As deputy commissioner for credit unions in the California Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), Dooley has made that one of her priorities since assuming the post in December 2000. She was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis. Her efforts are as much aimed at helping credit unions to more speedily navigate through the state’s bureaucratic maze as it is to help her department cope with an ever growing number of requests concerning fields of membership and conversion from federal to state charters. “Within the last year or so there has been a tremendous amount of effort on the DFI’s part to try to find ways to streamline the application process, to try to make a more efficient system so we can handle the increased work,” Dooley explained in a recent interview with Credit Union Times in her downtown Los Angeles office. Among the efforts under way are coming up with a set of “suggested forms,” developing a list of frequently asked questions or FAQs for credit unions to access, and a proposed regulatory change which would further speed up approvals for adding select employee groups. Much of Dooley’s efforts involve improving communications between the department and credit unions. “One of the things that I think the DFI has been lacking for quite a while is that it has not communicated well to the industry the types of information that a credit union needs to provide to the department so that the department can make a decision quickly and turn the information around,” she said. “What frequently happens is the credit union will send information to the department, and the department will then get back to the credit union for more information,” Dooley noted. “There’s kind of a back-and-forth. What we’re trying to do is make that information more readily available to the credit unions so that the first time they submit their information to us, we hopefully can act on it. That in itself will significantly cut down the time that’s involved in getting a lot of the requests approved.” One of the issues the DFI has had to deal with the past few years was the large number of credit unions wanting to convert from federal to state charters. In July 1997, when credit unions were placed under the DFI’s jurisdiction, there were 93 state-chartered institutions in the state. Currently, there are approximately 200, she said. During that same period, there were 51 conversions from federal to state charters. Assets under supervision have nearly tripled to nearly $44 billion. Despite the rise in the number of state-chartered credit unions and the tremendous growth in assets under DFI supervision, Dooley’s department has continued to operate with only 27 people. “Given all that activity, the size of the staff has remained the same,” she said. “So it’s put a tremendous amount of pressure on the DFI staff.” In fact, until recently the credit union division was operating with only 23 people to cover the entire state because of a hiring freeze ordered by the governor. That left Dooley short one supervisor, one senior examiner and two examiners. The freeze was recently lifted, which will allow her to hire four more examiners (the vacant positions were filled through internal promotions). Staffing issues have hindered the DFI. “The largest stumbling block with the charter conversions is our ability to examine the institutions we’re supervising,” she noted. “Once a credit union converts, we have to be able to supervise that credit union. So right now we’ve been trying to do it on a rather incremental basis so we’re comfortable that we are adequately supervising all of the institutions that we have under our purview.” Among the changes she said credit unions would soon be seeing were some suggested forms. “They’re not required forms and we can’t mandate that any credit union use them,” she explained. “However, it seems to me that if we make them available to credit unions, they’ll have a much better idea of the types of information to give us.” Those forms could be posted on the DFI’s Web site or might be made available on the Web site of the California/Nevada Credit Union League. Before assuming her role at DFI, Dooley was associate counsel for the league. Along with the suggested forms there might also be guidelines to give credit unions a better idea of the types of information DFI requires to process a specific request. A list of frequently asked questions is also expected to be developed. These would provide more general information in response to questions that are asked of examiners or by people calling the DFI office. “I’m hoping that between the suggested forms and the FAQs and any guidelines that we can come up with that the credit unions will have a pretty good sense of the type of information they need to provide to us to be able to get their application process approved quickly,” Dooley said. Credit unions may also see the state process streamlined for allowing them to add SEGs. Credit unions approved to participate in the program would have their requests to add a SEG of up to 1,000 people deemed approved if they did not receive a response from the DFI within 10 business days. “Obviously, it will be very helpful to the credit unions, and I think it will also be helpful to the department,” Dooley said. “It should minimize the staff time that’s spent on those types of activities.” Those SEG requests today are generally turned around within two weeks but she noted that it still required that DFI contact the credit unions. “We expect it will free up some staff time so they can focus on other issues,” she said. The proposed rule change, which still must go through the administrative law process, likely wouldn’t take effect until the end of the year. Dooley admitted that dealing with the state’s bureaucracy and the time it takes to get things done was one of the biggest surprises she encountered when she took the deputy commissioner’s job. “There are a lot more steps getting anything processed,” she admitted. “It was an adjustment for me.” Dooley, who has been a frequent speaker at league events and other credit union gatherings, including the California league’s Government Relations Rally April 2-3 in Sacramento, said the DFI was striving to have a good working relationship with the industry. “I think the DFI views itself as a regulator that obviously works to maintain safety and soundness . . . but we also like to view ourselves as a regulator that’s willing to work with an industry,” she said. “So as changes occur in the marketplace, we try to be somewhat adaptable to those changes taking into consideration any safety and soundness issues.” “I’m really excited about the changes that we’re implementing within the department,” she recently told a credit union audience. “I’m sure that you’ll all be pleased with the results.” [email protected]</p>

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