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Determining what the major issues are that are currently facing credit unions, trying to understand them, and then prioritizing them, is a big issue unto itself. That seemed to be the case at the National Issues Forum, a deliberately wide-open general session at the recent CUNA Symposium in Orlando. The purpose of the forum was to provide a unique opportunity for all symposium participants to bring up any (absolutely no restrictions) credit union issue that they felt was important and worthy of group discussion. Besides audience interaction, the session also featured a panel of experts: a well-known CU CEO with strong opinions, Bucky Sebastian, Florida; a respected and knowledgeable league CEO, Rosie Holub, Missouri; and a politically connected D.C. executive staff member of CUNA, Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs, John McKechnie. The panel was on hand to not only put in their own two cents worth on issues they deemed worthy of debate from their perspective, but to respond to issues coming off the floor. I facilitated the proceedings, a role that enabled me to function as a referee as well as weigh in on issues that surfaced with a comment or two of my own. It became clear from the outset that there is no universal list of credit union issues anywhere in credit union land. As the session unfolded, it quickly became evident, too, that the assemblage had some difficulty even determining what constitutes a major credit union issue. Is the highly touted need for bankruptcy reform a major issue? Is this really the number one credit union issue currently on the table? Definitely, said CUNA’s John. Or is it the alleged growing lack of cooperation between credit unions? It looks that way to me said a mid-size CU CEO in the audience. Are relentless bank attacks in Missouri that might morph into a national strategy by banking lobbyists a major issue? You had better believe it said Missouri’s Rosie. Or is a recent conversion by $2.8 billion Patelco Credit Union from federal (NCUSIF) to private (ASI) insurance an emerging big issue? We’re not really sure because we don’t know enough about it, said the audience via a show of hands. Are who credit unions can serve, where, how, and in competition with whom, all major internal and external CU issues? Yes, no, maybe, it depends, said a number of folks in the Marriott World Center ballroom. What about highly publicized issues such as alternative forms of capital, PCA capital requirements, charter conversions, mergers, the declining number of (mostly small) credit unions, geographical expansions, potential member overlaps, privacy, employment practices, predatory lending, regulatory relief, and deposit insurance reform? And how about the never-ending attack on the credit union tax-exemption? Or should a host of NCUA-related issues such as the 62% overhead transfer rate, or annual budget and staffing levels, be near the top of any major credit union issues list? Absolutely shouted Bucky, flip chart in hand to illustrate his point. Are these some of the major credit union issues that should be addressed by an audience comprised of (mostly) volunteers, CU CEOs, credit union staff, league and CUNA staff, and a sprinkling of vendors? Yes, and many others as well. The National Issues Forum proved what many credit union veterans already knew, namely, that credit union CEOs seem to have their own list of credit union issues. So do those working for and representing state and national CU trade groups. Volunteers also seem to have a list of what is most important to them. These lists sometimes differ so radically that an observer might wonder if the three groups are even close to singing from the same credit union issues song sheet. The forum also demonstrated that major credit union issues are not as obvious to everyone as it seems. Or, frankly, as they should be. It’s not that all credit union people don’t care. They do. But there are only so many major credit union issues that can be tracked at any given period in time. Add to the national list all the local, individual credit union issues that need attention. When and where to build a new branch can easily take on more significance than a recently proposed GAO study of credit unions, or a survey by CUNA to determine how well credit unions are serving the so-called underserved, or an effort to convince the SBA to let more credit unions participate, or getting the member business loan cap of 12.5% raised. For all the many specific issues that were brought up at the National Issues Forum, dozens more, including most of those mentioned above did not see the light of day. Nor did relatively new issues such as selling CU credit card portfolios and the no bounce check programs get mentioned. Maybe it was because there wasn’t enough time? Or just maybe it was because there is a widespread lack of knowledge throughout the credit union community regarding what the major CU issues are at any given time? And which ones deserve the most attention? Perhaps it makes sense for CUNA to put together a comprehensive list of issues? With such a list in hand, the next step might be to ask a cross section of credit union folks to attempt to prioritize that list. Creating such a list is a small thing, but it could be a start towards educating all segments of the credit union industry regarding what’s on the credit union radar screen. Final comment on the forum: as one member of the audience said, CUNA should be commended for having the guts to devote one of only three symposium general sessions to the concerns of participants. With most of the credit union press on hand, CUNA leadership knew that its critics could have used the forum to embarrass the trade group. That didn’t happen. The focus stayed on real credit union issues where it belonged. 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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