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Time to once again take a potpourri look around at credit unions and some things that impact them: In the “enjoy it while you can department,” current NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar continues to be the most popular chairman NCUA has ever had. He is knowledgeable, personable, accessible, a good speaker, a good listener, and more important, in tune with the needs of credit unions. While adhering closely to NCUA’s safety and soundness mandate, he regularly launches innovative initiatives (Reg Flex, Access Across America, etc.) to assist CUs in serving members in a safe, sound, and effective manner. But April, 2003 will be here before you know it. That’s when Dollar’s six-year term on the NCUA Board ends, and thus so does his chairmanship. His goal for the remaining 10 months is to do everything he can to help credit unions succeed in serving members. His plans for life after NCUA is anybody’s guess; he’s being very close-mouthed about that. Let the speculation begin. Who will replace Dollar as chairman? Will it be his Republican colleague and relative newcomer, JoAnn Johnson? Bush will still be President so there’s no doubt Dollar’s replacement will be a Republican. Depending on the individual’s stature and credentials, he or she could even come in at the chairman level. It’s not too early to get the backroom nomination machinery cranked up. Coming up soon, an objective answer to this question: “Are credit unions still rated better service providers and more consumer friendly than banks, or is the gap between banks and credit unions continuing to narrow?” In its July 23rd issue, the American Banker, a daily financial services industry publication, will release the results of its 14th annual American Banker/Gallup Consumer Survey. In its previous surveys, credit unions generally earned high marks from survey respondents, but in recent years the showing by banks has improved markedly. Will the new survey results show a continuation of this trend, and if so, what are the reasons behind any CU slippage? Credit Union Times will provide full coverage. Some credit union folks, while bemoaning the drastic drop in total U.S. credit unions, still adhere to the theory that the more credit unions there are, the higher the number will be representing members who belong to credit unions. Consider this: In 1969, the year I first became exposed to credit unions by being hired as CUNA’s director of public relations, the number of credit unions had reached an all-time high of 23,866 (the downward trend began the next year). These nearly 24,000 CUs represented 21.6 million members and $15.9 billion in assets. Today, 33 years later, there are approximately 10,000 credit unions (steadily going down), serving about 83 million members (going up at a good rate) and representing well over $500 billion in total assets (going up rapidly). The largest credit union, Navy Federal Credit Union, has more assets today than all credit unions combined had in 1969. Readers can draw their own conclusions. As the mating ritual for corporate credit unions heats up, it will be interesting to see who goes home from the dance with whom. It has already become clear that the inevitable development of fewer stand-alone corporates won’t be based strictly on geography. An effort currently underway is looking into the feasibility of combining a number of existing corporates into a regional corporate serving CUs in the Midwest. Montana’s corporate is included in the discussions. Since when is Montana in the Midwest? Wisconsin’s corporate (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio are already locked up) is not included. Since when is Wisconsin not in the Midwest? The corporate in North Dakota is also in the mix. Despite its Western location, it is called Midwest Corporate, one of the names being bandied about in initial discussions for the new super regional corporate entity. Meanwhile, South Dakota’s Corporate recently became part of Empire Corporate which is located in Albany, New York. Perhaps the next potential regional corporate will involve the states of Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Maine? Does anyone have a current map of the U.S. handy? Due to recent tragic world events, there has been more interest in Muslims lately. However, “interest” of a different kind, that paid by members on loans, is a very bad word in Muslim financial circles according to a lengthy article entitled “Banking on Allah” in the June 10th issue of Fortune Magazine. Note these article tag lines: “Devout Muslims don’t pay or receive interest. So how can their system work?” And this one: “There is no sin in the Koran-not even drinking, not even fornicating, not even homosexuality-which could be as abhorrent and serious as dealing in riba (interest).” Credit Union Times is planning on taking an editorial look at this interesting approach to conducting financial transactions. In what some in credit union land speculate may be the start of a growing trend, a couple of credit unions have crawled into bed with some check cashing outfits (currently a $7 billion industry), at least on an experimental basis. With what some observers have dubbed an unholy alliance, members of participating credit unions can enjoy expanded hours for handling their routine transactions such as making deposits via a check casher. Involved credit unions claim they set rules and safeguards to protect members from any mistreatment. Besides the operational considerations, some say the perception factor makes the cooperative effort dubious at best. The experiment is expected to be closely watched by credit union policymakers. Finally, as a follow-up to a previous kudos column in which I lauded the significant accomplishments of outstanding credit union individuals, I would like to add recently retired WesCorp CEO Dick Johnson. His impressive personal and professional accomplishments have been well documented in this publication. Tons of well-deserved praise and plaudits have been bestowed on him as he stepped down. I would only add that this industry needs many more Dick Johnsons to follow in his footsteps. His important and visionary contributions will be a tough act to top! 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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