The list of items deserving of a comment or two keeps getting longer. To whittle it down a bit, here are a few of them: Although I have been preaching in this space for a long time that credit unions need to play more offense and not just defense, there apparently is no universal agreement with that position. In a recent Credit Union Times Web site poll, almost as many respondents indicated that the current defensive posture of credit unions was just fine with them as the number who agreed with my plea for a more aggressive stance. Somewhat related, a number of recent events would seem to indicate that the banking industry is continuing to field a strong offensive team. For example, the heated front burner battle between banks and credit unions in Utah is sure to get hotter. A staff executive of the state’s largest bank has been appointed to head up a newly formed committee that ostensibly is supposed to work out differences between the opposing factions. Fat chance. Meanwhile, in Florida a supposedly independent new tax study has been released. Most credit union observers see in it an obvious hidden agenda of taxing at least the largest state-chartered credit unions in the Sunshine State. For starters, it criticizes the credit union tax-exemption in general, but specifically says the little CUs are OK but the big guys should be putting over $100 million in the state till each year. How objective is it? The study was commissioned by the state bankers’ association. Then there is this tidbit: In Michigan credit unions will now be regulated by a 48-year old banker who most recently was CEO of a $30 million start-up bank. Connect the dots. Another new credit union organization has been born. It is called the Credit Union Economics Group (CUEG). Its stated purpose is to provide credit unions and others with a strategic view of the economy and consumer financial services. Its members are all senior level credit union economists operating at the national level, right? Far from it. But who is a member is not as interesting as who isn’t. The credit union industry’s most experienced, well-known, and respected economist, Bill Hampel, CUNA’s Senior Vice President, Research and Policy Analysis/Chief Economist, is conspicuous by his absence. When asked why, a CUNA spokesperson said there was no compelling reason for the new group because the ongoing informal cooperation between CU economists is enough for CUNA. Hence no reason for Hampel to become a part of it. My take on the no-Hampel participation boils down to still another CUNA/NAFCU “not-invented-here” standoff. Thus, when CUEG meets with important government bodies such as the Federal Reserve Board, the important views of the industry’s leading economist will not be heard. What a shame. NCUA has just rendered a legal opinion (based on a 1991 finding) that is sure to open Pandora’s Box. They opined that part-time FCU employees are also permitted to serve on the credit union’s board of directors as long as board and employee responsibilities are kept clearly distinct. Talk about a juggling act! What an interesting development in light of the fierce feelings many credit union CEOs and board members have regarding the credit union CEO also holding a position on the board. CEOs are generally in favor. Many board members adamantly oppose it. Lets see now, under this new ruling, a part-time staffer (maybe more than one?) works for the CEO and the CEO works for the part-time staffer. And if that employee should get fired, he or she would no longer work for the CEO, but the CEO would continue to work for the former employee. Wouldn’t that present a perplexing situation? Many credit unions and CU groups have discovered a new way to violate privacy and annoy those who receive their group e-mails at the same time. One example of many: they get a cutesy joke and decide to send it to everyone on their personal e-mail list. Unfortunately, the e-mail address of each and every person on the receiving end now has his or her e-mail address on display at the front end of the usually innocuous e-mail. Is it really a good idea to distribute all those e-mail addresses without permission just because it is convenient to do so? We think not. As reported recently in this publication, a credit union CEO decided to conduct a mini-survey of sorts on the issue of credit union deposit insurance. He canvassed a teller line to get a reading on what the typical member knows regarding who provides the insurance that protects their accounts. About two-thirds thought FDIC provided coverage. About 22% indicated the correct answer, namely, NCUSIF. About 13% thought their insurance came via the IRS. Interesting results, but not nearly as interesting as if those same members were asked who regulates their credit union. FDIC would probably again be the number one citation. Can’t help wonder how many members have heard of NCUA or the appropriate state regulator. While at it, asking members to explain the difference between their credit union and a bank would also prove enlightening. “I don’t know” would probably garner the most votes. Other fun questions might include asking members if they are customers or members and who can join their credit union? Credit unions in California are jointly spending big advertising bucks through their Los Angeles Area Cooperative Advertising Program to make sure members, but especially potential members, in that state can answer that last question accurately. Finally, kudos to all those credit unions, especially those with a large military-based membership, that have come up with so many innovative and generous ways to show their collective support for United States troops deployed in Iraq. 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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