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WASHINGTON – In an effort to both encourage credit unions to document their advantages and produce more useful political data, CUNA has streamlined its Project Differentiation, making it easier to use and moving it to more of a multiple choice format. “We recognized that the survey’s perceived length was keeping some credit unions from getting as involved in the Project Differentiation effort,” said Patricia Raymond, political programs director for the Association. “We wanted to make it quicker and easier to get involved,” she said. Raymond also acknowledged that one of the benefits of the revised Project Differentiation would be to provide a source of easily mined data that credit unions could use to both better define themselves for legislators and defend against allegations that they do not adequately reach out to low-income members and communities. The previous Project Differentiation resulted in a Statement of Commitment that chiefly resembled an essay. The streamlined Statement of Commitment contains the results of 21 primarily multiple-choice questions. Raymond said the impetus for the streamlined approach arose from participating on a “hike the hill” Congressional visit in 2002. She explained that during the course of the visit she had watched as a credit union delegation had experienced good interaction with the staff of one congressional office, but had then ended the visit by handing the staff a 40-page document that was its Statement of Commitment from Project Differentiation. “I knew from my experience with the Hill that this was entirely too long for the staff to really be able do anything useful with it,” Raymond said. Moving the Statement of Commitment away from its essay-bound roots will also help the credit union industry fend off some of the criticism it has drawn from both bankers and housing activists about how well or poorly it serves low income members. At the time Project Differentiation got started, credit union industry officials were quick to point out its usefulness as a counter to some of the charges that credit unions didn’t do enough to help low income members or nearby low income communities. But the Statement of Commitment’s essay format made it very difficult to turn any of the Statement’s anecdotal data into information that could be offered in a statistical way. The new Statement of Commitment corrects this flaw by making it possible, for example, for credit union industry executives and lobbyists to report the percentages of participating credit unions that offer products specifically aimed at lower income members or offer other programs lower income members could find useful, Raymond explained. “For example, one statistic that illustrates credit union differences are the number of credit unions that have significant percentages of their membership with accounts of only $10,” Raymond remarked. “How many banks are going to let their customers do that?” In addition, streamlining the Statement of Commitment will allow the credit unions themselves to use the data more efficiently, Raymond said. CUNA has begun distributing some sample brochures to illustrate how efficiently they can present the collected data, for example in documents suitable for busy legislative staffs, Raymond added. [email protected]

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