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OGDEN, Utah – The three Utah credit unions named in the American Bankers Association’s July 15-suit challenging NCUA’s field of membership authority are apparently moving ahead with branch plans despite the legal cloud. The $2.6-billion America First Federal Credit Union, the state’s largest, said “we are proceeding on the same schedule” with plans to add two new branches” in Salt Lake County in the communities of Draper and West Jordan. Those branches would be open in about six months, said Brent Allen, executive vice president. “We’re still looking for property,” said Allen, adding that the ABA-Utah Bankers Association lawsuit against NCUA “does not change our planning.” Allen said America First “has perfect confidence the NCUA made the right decision” when it approved its charter conversion May 1 and allowed the CU’s FOM expansion into more Utah counties. “Not for one moment has the suit deterred us from our objective in serving members,” declared Shelley Clarke, president of Goldenwest Federal CU, who said the Ogden CU expects to open its 10th branch in Davis County “within the year.” She called the ABA’s FOM challenge “ridiculous” and another example of the “bullying tactics” of the banking industry. “Just like when you were growing up and you had to face the bully on the block, you simply go around him and live a full life. We’re doing it.” Meanwhile, Tooele Federal Credit Union, whose NCUA approval for FOM expansion in six new counties last April triggered the initial-and strident-banker complaints and the subsequent suit brought by the ABA and the Utah Bankers Association, said its “timeline” for new branches was still being worked on but under study are three branches in Summit County. One would be in Park City, the chic mountain resort town, which the UBA argued represents a “legal travesty” since under what it says are NCUA rules, totally circumvents a “well-defined local community” for Tooele, 70 miles west of Park City and located in a blue collar suburb of Salt Lake City. Joining the ABA/UBA suit, now seen as a fresh national test of NCUA’s rule-making power on FOM, are four Utah banks located in areas of the state where they would compete against the three CUs-America First, Goldenwest CU of Ogden and Tooele. The banks include: Bank of Utah, Ogden; Liberty Bank, First Utah Bank, both of Salt Lake City, and Frontier Bank FSB, Park City. Defending his $160-million CU, Steven Christensen, Tooele president and chairman of the Utah League of Credit Unions, said expansion into Park City as well as other parts of the state meets NCUA rules since the CU has already demonstrated it has members who have moved into those areas from Tooele. NCUA’s April 24 decision allowing a community charter for Tooele authorized expansion into six Utah counties. That six-county expansion has infuriated the ABA which on July 14-one day before the suit filing in a Salt Lake City federal district court-issued press releases lambasting the NCUA order as a “violation of the law and congressional intent.” The ABA charged the Tooele application was a mere “stalking horse” or “footprint” for the later conversions for America First and Goldenwest and their FOM approvals. The Tooele application for six counties “represents an area larger than the state of Maryland stretching from Wyoming to Nevada and encompassing two metropolitan statistical areas with a population of 1.4 million.” The ABA says that does not constitute “a well-defined local community.” NCUA contends Congress and recent court decisions have upheld its rulemaking power particularly in allowing CUs to solicit members or their families who have moved or who work or worship in outlying communities. Meanwhile, the anti-CU/anti-bank rhetoric triggered by the suit continued to heat up in the Salt Lake City media with Scott Earl, president of the Utah League of Credit Unions, accusing the banking lobby of “acting like rabid dogs.” “First we heard that the state laws regulating credit unions are too liberal and now it’s the federal regulators that are supposed to be causing the problems,” said Earl in comments appearing in the Salt Lake Tribune. “The bankers just don’t seem to want to let it go. He added that, “As Ronald Reagan might have said, `There they go again.’ This is just another effort by Utah banks to limit Utah citizens’ ability to belong to the credit union of their choice. It’s not about common bonds, affinities, or `rogue regulators.’ This is about competition. We provide it. Banks hate it. Utah banks will not stop this sort of harassment until they eliminate credit unions-and that will never happen,” concluded the statement. -

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