SANTA FE, N.M. – It looks like the number of U.S. credit unions is heading below 10,000 for the first time as compared to 20,000 in operation 20 years ago, according to Callahan & Associates. "This is what we are expecting for end of third quarter" regulatory data, forecast Jay E. Johnson, Callahan executive vice president, speaking to the annual conference of the National Association of Community Credit Unions. The decline reflects the continued trend toward consolidation and mergers impacting both credit unions and banks, he said. Discussing the generally positive health of community CUs across the country, Johnson said they continue to "lead the way" on many fronts including auto loan volume, shared branching and transaction activity among others. He noted the predominance of large CUs in cities where they have survived as the largest home-owned institution, in many cases replacing banks which have been merged into out-of-state institutions. He listed San Diego, San Antonio, Tampa, Jacksonville, Fla. and Peoria, Ill. "where Citizens Equity has a third of the mortgages." Johnson presented data to an NACCU breakout session showing what he said are the many "market opportunities" for CUs to expand, including the mortgage field. Many members of the public are still not cognizant they can join a CU or unaware of product offerings of CUs. In his remarks, the Callahan executive also noted the continued trendline of fee income on the increase for community CUs as they expand checking business and he cited the success of auto lending among community CUs. In California, for instance in the month of July, Credit Union Direct Lending Corp. surpassed GMAC and Bank of America to become the third largest lender in that state. The Callahan executive urged community CUs to think "in the long term of what it really means to be a community credit union" because it involves not only getting the name accepted but it also requires "a certain public visibility." That translates, he said, into the CU getting involved in charity work as well as "sponsoring sports teams and the like."

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