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LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Office of Financial and Insurance Services will continue to support revamping the state’s credit union act, an effort championed by credit unions. That assurance of sustained backing is important since it comes after a new OFIS commissioner, Linda Watters, was appointed by recently-elected Gov. Jennifer Granholm and formally confirmed by the state Senate. A shift in those key executive branch slots evidently isn’t going to hinder efforts to replace the current 1925 act with one tailored for the 21st Century. Watters points out the OFIS has been involved with the process from the beginning. Deputy Commissioner Roger Little has served as point man working with the legislature and the Michigan Credit Union League. “OFIS certainly supports the proposed legislation to modernize the Michigan Credit Union Act,” Watters states. “The proposal strengthens our regulatory, supervisory and enforcement powers. It also provides for greater flexibility and innovation and reduces the regulatory burden for credit unions.” Key points in the proposed new act would: * Make it easier for credit unions to expand their fields of membership. * Formally permit credit unions to handle business electronically or by mail. * Allow credit unions to serve the unbanked by furnishing non-members with such basic services as check cashing, wire transfers, money orders and traveler’s checks. * Authorize small, short-term loans to members. Those loans would be for up to $1,000 and payable in 30 days. “What’s really important is there are many citizens who are unbanked,” Watters says. “I had an opportunity last week to speak with several credit union CEOs, and there are a lot of initiatives credit unions are currently undertaking in the state relating to consumer outreach and education. We’d like to work more closely with credit unions along those lines,” she says. Watters earned her B.A. at Bowling Green University and also received an M.B.A. from the University of Dayton. She comes to her post from a banking background, most recently as CEO of Detroit Commerce Bank. She also served as vice president and relationship manager of commercial financial services with Standard Federal Bank, and worked for Comerica Bank. Given that banking background, some people in the credit union movement might wonder about Watters’ feelings toward credit unions. But she indicates she will stress an across-the-board approach. “It’s important we provide fair and firm regulation across all our industry lines, including banking and insurance. It’s also important to me that Michigan state (credit union) charters are viable,” she says. “One thing I would like to see happen, and this applies to all the industries we regulate here at OFIS, is to increase the number of credit unions in the state and actively market Michigan as the state charter of choice – and hopefully get some of those federal charters flipped to state charters,” Waters says. If the proposed new Michigan Credit Union Act passes, what would that have to offer credit unions compared to a federal charter? “All parts of that modernization act are attractive to any credit union CEO,” Watters answers. “I think you have to look at the package collectively, not at any one part. Our plan is certainly to make ourselves accessible to the various CEOs and help them understand what we have to offer.” -

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