CHICAGO – Like a lot of airline credit unions, the $4 billion United Airlines Employees CU is at a crossroads. New CEO – and former banker – David W. Mooney brings a wealth of retail banking experience and some optimism to what he believes is going to be an interesting journey. Whenever former bankers attain a prominent position in the credit union industry, they face a lot of questions from inquiring credit union people about what it’s like on the other side. “I think the most significant difference is the member ownership concept here. At commercial banks you often find contention between customers’ interests and shareholders’ objectives and how that can affect management decisions. At the credit union the mission is more clear,” said Mooney. Mooney, 47, most recently worked as a Senior Vice President at J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. He had the monumental task of helping direct the integration of products and operations for the retail and commercial banking businesses in the merger of J.P. Morgan and Chase Manhattan. He was always aware of credit unions, but says commercial banks aren’t as focused on credit unions as a competitive threat as much as community bankers. He learned how strong credit unions could be however, when he was directing J.P. Morgan’s retail banking efforts in Texas. “Working in Texas in the early ’90s, credit unions were among the survivors in the financial services field when a lot of thrifts failed and a lot of larger banks had failed or gone through some serious distress. The credit unions were a significant force in part due to banking laws in Texas and in part due to their populous history,” said Mooney. He said as a banker he never really viewed the credit union tax exemption as that big of an advantage. “I don’t think the tax advantage is such that it gives us any substantial advantage. We operate with some disadvantages, particularly with access to capital. I think I read somewhere recently where someone said, `If this is such a huge advantage why aren’t banks converting to credit union charters.’ I don’t think many of their arguments have merit,” said Mooney. A bigger issue than credit unions for commercial bankers has been the Community Reinvestment Act. Mooney said banks are always looking for ways to be CRA-compliant, particularly as standards changed from time to time. When he took the UAECU job, he didn’t view it as crossing over of some great divide that he couldn’t cross back. “One thing I’ve noticed that’s not so different is the products and services offered. From that standpoint banks and credit unions are virtually indistinguishable.” Expanding UAECU’s Horizons Mooney joins a credit union that has historically been a single-sponsor credit union and which still has very strong ties to the sponsor. In fact the two organizations share the same HR policies and the CU has a leased employment arrangement with the airline where they are paid by the airline, and the CU then reimburses the airline. The relationship between the two organizations is very solid said Mooney. “The airline views the credit union as a real benefit to its employees,” he said. But with the airline’s financial difficulties, the credit union is looking to expand its membership base. It now has a community charter for 19 communities around its Chicago headquarters. The credit union wants to stick primarily to a SEG strategy in this new FOM. “In the new community, our marketing strategy will be fairly targeted to SEGs. We don’t see ourselves as a mass marketer. We are not looking to flood the airwaves with advertising. We think we’re strong in the workplace where we can form a strong and constructive partnership with sponsor companies. When the sponsor is highly-committed, we can be successful,” said Mooney. Along with a new community charter, UAECU recently joined the CO-OP Network giving its members access to over 17,000 ATMs, many of which are deposit-taking. This is important for an airline credit union that can have a scattered membership. At last count, it had 16 branch/service centers in 11 cities. “Those branches are largely located at airport facilities. That has been our strength. We will look at more workplace sites for new branches, supplemented by some select public access locations,” said Mooney. “Right now we have a substantial structural challenge with physical access.” He wants to improve total channel access, not just physical, and also hopes to do more in investment services. “I see a significant demand and need for investment services, and that will grow,” he said. Having worked in retail banking for the last 15 years, Mooney said a mistake many financials make is not knowing what they want to focus on. “There’s a temptation to bend over and pick up every nickel on the sidewalk. Especially as you get larger, you feel you have to play in every field. You engage in hobbies and start doing things that look like they can generate some incremental income. In the end they wind up taking away attention and energy from what should be the focus,” said Mooney. Right now Mooney is getting to learn a lot about the airline industry up close and personal as he commutes to Chicago weekly from his home in Connecticut. Mooney has a wife and three children, one of who is about to embark on his senior year in high school in Connecticut. “We don’t know if we want to uproot him at this critical time, so we’re trying to decide if moving right now is in the overall best interest for the family or should I continue to commute,” he said. Mooney was born in the New York area, but grew up in the Midwest, which he considers his real roots. “The Midwest is like home,” he said. A fly fishing fanatic, who like most complain about not getting out enough, Mooney said he’ll fish for just about anything that will take a fly, saltwater or freshwater fish. “In my quieter moments I like to play the guitar and my three children demand my attention,” he said. -pgentile@cutimes.com