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Some things just never die. The subject of how well credit unions are serving low-income individuals, has more lives than an alley cat. It’s back on the front burner. Why? Are Norm D’Amours and Yolanda Wheat lurking in the halls of NCUA? Looking at recent low-income related actions and pronouncements by an NCUA Board Member, the CEOs of CUNA, NAFCU, and Navy Federal Credit Union, and by spokespersons for the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (NFCDCU), and for the Chicago-based Woodstock Institute, the word “why” keeps popping into my head. Why has new NCUA Board Member Deborah Matz made finding a way to force federal credit unions to document their service to low-income individuals seemingly her top priority since joining the board? Why did she call a special meeting at NCUA headquarters with national CU leaders to ostensibly “discuss the issue?” It appears that meeting accomplished little more than to increase the heartburn level for some meeting participants as well as all FCUs who read about it in this publication. Each of them had to show a politically correct face to an NCUA Board Member after she put them in a tough spot. All they could do after the meeting was issue typical association spin statements, which they did. Also after the meeting, Matz said “I made it clear to them that I was not going to tell them what to do,” (as if that is her prerogative). She added, “They just have to decide what to do and do it.” That sounds like a direct order to me. Why do anything? Matz can call all the unofficial, information-seeking meetings she wants, with whomever she wants, but she does not speak for the NCUA Board. Matz, not the NCUA Board, said that there is a need for credit unions to document their activity with low-income people in light of studies which appear to cast doubt on credit unions’ record in that area. What studies? Is there more than one? No. Is it broad based? No. Is its sponsor credible in regard to credit union data and facts? No. So why not move on from thinly veiled attempts to resurrect CAP (Community Action Plan)? It will never pass with the current NCUA Board anyway. Even if by some fluke a new CAP did pass, like the discarded version, it would not only cause more unnecessary and costly busy work for credit unions, but do nothing of substance for low-income credit union members. It would also help accelerate the flight from federal to state credit union charters. Ironically, since Dennis Dollar became NCUA Chairman, the advances on behalf of low-income CU members and potential members have been significant. Look at the numbers! And his Access Across America initiative has yet to get up to full speed. Why not instead channel efforts to document the obvious for the benefit of a few critics towards concentrating on safety and soundness, the main responsibility of the NCUA Board? Credit unions don’t have to prove to anyone, least of all sideline critics like the Woodstock Institute, that are sticking their collective noses where they don’t belong. Why are credit unions giving credence to the irresponsible and unsubstantiated statements about credit unions, so ludicrous I won’t dignify them by repeating them here, made by Woodstock Institute officials? Credit union leaders are giving that group far more credibility than they deserve. Matz wasn’t around for the two-to-one vote (Dollar and Bacino for; Wheat against) at year-end 2001 to dump CAP. Is her goal to bring it back? Will credit unions once again be backed into a CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) corner by ardent enemies joined by politicians posing as CU friends? The main thrust of CAP was to require credit unions to do what Matz now seems to be seeking through the back door, namely, for credit unions to formally document their low-income service efforts. The current emphasis to seek a good way to collect empirical data on service to low-income individuals really begs the question. Why fret over how to do it when the real question is why do it? No good reasons have been put forth by anyone. It is also interesting to note that if CUNA and NAFCU are going to undertake any low-income studies (everyone agrees NCUA shouldn’t), it will be only when and if the members of the trade groups, credit unions, ask them to do so. Won’t happen. CUNA’s Mica and NAFCU’s Becker know it. That’s why their respective statements after the meeting were crafted so carefully. Mica said we need to publicize more the good works of credit unions. No mention of data collection. Becker said thanks for holding the meeting. No mention of data collection. Only the NFCDCU spokesperson took the bait and said they would be happy to help the CU industry come up with data. Keep in mind that with one exception, FCUs have yet to be heard from. Participation by Navy Federal, although the world’s largest credit union, does not a credit union feedback forum make. Isn’t it time that credit union leaders stop letting others set self-serving priorities for credit unions. Documenting low-income members, or any other grouping of members, for whatever reasons, brings no value to credit union members. Credit unions must not be forced into constantly justifying their purpose and existence just because it is challenged. Every time some person, or official, or group, or competitor, levels a charge at credit unions doesn’t mean that defending credit unions has to become the top credit union industry priority. Credit unions have too many important things to do that directly benefit all members rather than constantly being diverted by a cause advanced by those with their own political agenda. Just ask them. The credit union response will be loud and clear! Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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