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During my credit union career, I have attended a number of national banking association conferences. Included on the long list of things I learned at these meetings is that the three most popular session themes at banking meetings are profitability, profitability, and profitability. It’s a shame that bankers don’t participate in credit union meetings such as the NAFCU Annual Conference and Exhibition just concluded in Seattle. While taking in the sights and sounds of the group’s 35th annual conference, it occurred to me that this would have been a wonderful meeting for bankers to attend. Why? First, to educate them about credit unions. Secondly, they would have seen and heard up close and personal what makes credit union people tick and what their hot buttons really are. Bankers would have also learned about credit union priorities firsthand and could observe what looms ahead on credit union radar screens. All of these observations would be devoid of any banker spin. Even if bankers attended only NAFCU’s opening general session they would have witnessed and impressive line-up of credit union industry leaders saying some pretty significant things of interest to both credit unions and banks. For example, NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar told the large gathering of credit union volunteers and CEOs filling the cavernous convention center ballroom, that NCUA has created a task force to look into how credit union membership can be made available to more Americans. As Dollar put it, the tremendous growth of credit unions in terms of serving more members and getting access to millions of potential members is good for America. Wouldn’t that thrill any bankers sitting in the audience? Dollar provided impressive numbers reflecting the success credit unions were having reaching out to underserved areas while remaining safe and sound and within the spirit of H.R. 1151 provisions. His goal of enhancing the federal charter came through loud and clear. Next the bankers in attendance would have heard Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Hector Baretto tell credit unions that it is just a matter of time before the SBA will find a way for virtually all credit unions to fully participate in SBA lending programs. Even though Baretto explained why this move is good for the country, the banking industry attendees would undoubtedly greet this news with something less than horror since they would like to see credit unions get out of member business lending. NCUA Board Member JoAnn Johnson’s remarks would also have more than likely brought a grimace to any bankers in the audience. She said CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) is not appropriate for credit unions. According to Johnson, credit unions are proving every day that they are doing the right thing. She added that regulatory hurdles need to be removed and she also wants to see the federal charter enhanced. At this point bankers would probably be squirming in their chairs. Opening session remarks by the third member of the NCUA Board, Deborah Matz, probably wouldn’t have brought a smile to any bankers in Seattle either, especially when she stated that credit unions need to get more aggressive in serving the mortgage needs of their members. According to Matz, although 64% of credit unions offer mortgages, only 2% of Americans have mortgages through their credit unions even though CU mortgages have doubled to $46 billion in the past year. From this both credit union and banker participants would conclude that credit unions have tremendous potential in the mortgage market. Directly related, in later remarks, NAFCU president/CEO, Fred Becker, who did a masterful job emceeing the proceedings and setting the stage for the days that followed, announced that NAFCU had just become the only credit union group to establish an alliance with Fannie Mae. Look out bankers, with encouragement from regulators and timely help from their trade group, credit unions will be seeking to find additional ways to help their members build wealth and get into their own homes. And if that’s not enough for any banking attendees to fret over, Matz also said she wants to see the federal charter enhanced (that makes it unanimous among NCUA board members), wants to broaden credit unions’ ability to offer MBLs, and sees a need to review NCUA regs to make certain there are not any that are unnecessary. Also on that first day, any banking representatives attending NAFCU would have learned that the association knows how to put on a first class national meeting, that credit union folks are intensely patriotic and “Proud to be an American,” that they have a great sense of humor (visualize catching a huge, fresh fish tossed across a ballroom), that they were the backbone of the Cherry Blossom Run in D.C. to benefit charity, and that the credit union industry is now raising record amounts of PAC money. There’s more: for example, bankers on site would probably be somewhat flabbergasted at the size and quality of the NAFCU conference exposition program. The hall was brimming with top of the line vendors, many who until recently only went to banking industry meetings. Many of them were showcasing hi-tech, member friendly innovations. Also, any bankers in attendance at NAFCU would have to come away impressed with not only the expertise of speakers and the sophistication of topics (Web-based, trust-based marketing; online Internet lending; paperless FCU; security infrastructure for e-business, lowering costs for voice and data telecommunications, etc.), but also the networking and camaraderie so evident throughout the full-scale social program included as part of the conference package. Credit union representatives trek to NAFCU every July in great numbers to learn more about credit unions. Too bad representatives from the banking industry don’t do the same. They just might come away with a better understanding of the real reasons credit unions have become so valuable to millions of Americans. Or is that too much to hope for? 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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