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WASHINGTON – Executives of low-income and community development credit unions report their institutions generally find CUNA supportive but added that the association too often seems caught up with the interests and agendas of large credit unions. In a series of recent conversations with Credit Union Times, four execs outlined what they saw as CUNA’s strengths and weaknesses in dealing with low-income and community development credit unions. Helen Godfrey, CEO of the $46 million Shreveport Federal Credit Union, generally praised CUNA for its marketing and other products and pointed out that they had really given her 11,000-member credit union a voice in its Shreveport, Louisiana marketplace that it probably couldn’t afford otherwise. “We are only a small credit union,” Godfrey said, “and we couldn’t afford to have much of an advertising campaign, but with CUNA’s help we can communicate in this market as well as anyone else can.” Godfrey has led Shreveport since 1983 and has served on a 1994 CUNA Task Force that studied updating the insurance credit unions carry. Godfrey said Shreveport FCU pays dues to both the state league and CUNA and felt the credit union got good money for its investment, although she reported, like the other low-income CEOs, that her credit union got most of its practical help from the league. Godfrey criticized an attitude among some credit union executives that, she said, made it appear that they wanted to be “spoon fed” by CUNA. She noted that low-income credit unions needed to be pro-active with the association as much or more than the association needed to be pro-active with them. According to CUNA, 780, or 92%, of the 846 credit unions that NCUA designates as low-income are affiliated with CUNA. Low-income credit unions don’t get a break on their dues, but CUNA reported that some state leagues waive dues for them. However, the four credit union CEOs from Louisiana, Alabama, Ohio and Illinois, denied ever having heard of such a thing and said their credit unions paid CUNA dues. However, CUNA reported that low-income credit unions do get a break on the level of fees they have to pay. Unless waived by their state leagues, low-income credit unions with less than $5 million in assets pay $0.10 per member and $0.01 per $1,000 in assets, whereas larger CUs pay $0.12 per member and $0.02 per $1,000 in assets. Thus a $2 million CDCU with 700 members would pay $90 per year in CUNA dues, the Association said. Ed Jacob, CEO of the $7 million Chicago based North Side Community Credit Union, agreed with Godfrey that North Side benefited from CUNA products and services, but took issue with the some of CUNA’s marketing materials which, he noted, did not reflect the populations that many low-income credit unions were seeking to serve. “Most of the CUNA produced marketing materials I have seen have been aimed at seemingly more settled credit unions’ fields of membership,” Jacob said. “A lot of low-income credit unions seek to serve some really heavily immigrant populations,” he said. “It’s not just bi-lingual ads (Spanish and English), though that would help,” he said. “Its just an awareness of the diversity that we have out here.” Jacob pointed out that North Side’s community has some traditional European-Americans and Hispanics, but also Vietnamese, Laotian, Hmong, and other populations too. He acknowledged that CUNA could probably not produce materials for each of these groups, or showing each of these groups, but said marketing materials that showed a broad range of people using credit unions would help his marketing effort. He also contrasted with some other low-income and community development credit unions that have criticized CUNA for its stance on the pending federal bankruptcy reform legislation. Jacob said he supported the legislation and appreciated CUNA’s stand supporting it. Rita Haynes, Chairman of the Board of the National Federation for Community Development Credit Unions (NFCDCU) and CEO of the Cleveland based Faith Community United Credit Union said many low-income and community development credit unions felt that CUNA had at heart the interests of the larger and wealthier credit unions than those of the smaller institutions which struggle. For example, CUNA does not give low income credit unions much of a break when it comes to some of its conferences, particularly the annual Governmental Affairs Conference, Haynes noted, but seemed to always want smaller and low-income credit unions to be very well represented in its lobbying efforts. Haynes drew attention in particular to the current legislative fight over the Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund. Many community development and low-income credit unions benefit from money the fund distributed and they are worried, Haynes said, that appropriations for the fund will be cut significantly this year. If CUNA wanted to take one policy stand that would really help community development and low income credit unions, Haynes said, it would not just support CDFI funding but would throw its considerable political weight behind even increasing it. But it was Eunice Johnson Rogers, CEO and sole employee of the $750,000 NRS Federal Credit Union, based in Birmingham, Alabama, who was especially grateful of CUNA. Rogers will travel to the coming CUNA Symposium in Orlando to serve for the first time on CUNA’s Cooperative Alliances Committee and credits CUNA with their help in her training and in getting NRS underway. The 480 member credit union was founded in 1996 and Rogers said that CUNA had co-sponsored training she had received through a school run by the NFCDCU as well as with other classes. “There’s no way I could have done this without the help of my League and CUNA,” Rogers said. [email protected]

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