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WILSONVILLE, Ore. – Georgene Arbon, CEO of the $12.5 million Rite Choice FCU here, admits she doesn’t mind being called a vocal or an opinionated advocate for small credit unions in the Northwest, many of which she contends are engaged in a constant struggle for survival coping with meager and/or inexperienced staffs. Which is why it was a natural three years ago for the Oregon Credit Union Association to name her chairman of its Small Credit Union Committee, a League unit which in recent weeks has been charting new territory for small CUs by refining its self-help “buddy system,” issuing a new statewide vendor directory, and establishing a low-cost legal retainer with a Portland law firm. “I know there’s lots of talk in state Leagues about how they care about the small credit union and they listen to their concerns, but when it comes to getting things done, there hasn’t been much delivered,” complained Arbon who claims her experience as president of a small Vancouver-based CU group in Washington State has given her impetus to expand its methods to Oregon. The result so far includes what League officials see as several new beneficial committee ventures including the issuance last week of the new vendor directory containing all vendors used by Oregon CUs ranging from suppliers and collectors to on-line servicers, to equipment manufacturers. The hard-copy booklet includes information sorted by CU and by type of company, such as data processor, paper supplier, visa processor etc., with plans to update the directory every six months in January and July “with feedback” from member CUs. CUAO emphasized that “the quality and completeness of the directory is directly dependent upon the participation updates from credit unions” but the first directory does “contain information from a wide range of credit unions around the state.” CUAO noted that the directory can be a valuable tool for all CUs since the trade group many years ago halted its “store” for CUs offering forms and supplies. The directory can now be a tool for “CEOs and other decision makers when looking for resources to assist them in identifying potential partners,” said the League. Apart from the directory, the CUAO Small CU Committee, in July implemented a program offering small CUs a legal services retainer under an agreement with Farleigh, Wada and Witt of Portland. The agreement with Farleigh Wada is deemed more economical than conventional agreements, with the Portland law firm providing specific services to the smaller CU under a contract tied to CUAO dues. “The services available range from answering questions on the phone to reviewing contracts,” said the League adding, “if a credit union has needs that exceed the scope of the retainer, the services are provided at a discount.” The program is set up, said the League, “so that credit unions that want to participate can pay the retainer along with their association dues each year.” Arbon said another valued element of the Oregon program has been the “buddy system” in which managers of small CUs are encouraged to communicate with their peers from larger credit unions to gain advice and assistance or engage in equipment exchanges. In many cases, larger CUs come to the fore with offers of staff help or donated equipment in a formal partnering arrangement. “Those communication lines are very important,” said Arbon noting that some of very smallest CUs desperately need the donated computers or microfiche reader printers since “they have nothing at all.” The used equipment is an improvement on what they have, she said. Small CUs, perhaps because of inadequate staffing, struggle with reconciling financial statements, handling collections or experiencing some operation breakdown and thus need that “mentor” assistance which can prove a life-saver particularly at a time “when the feds might be coming down hard on some one,” she said. The staffing pressures can become rather intense “when you have a two-person office and the chief operations person has to go on maternity leave,” said Arbon. Important work gets pushed back, and sometimes a CU manager is embarrassed at his or her lack of knowledge of a particular system and is afraid to ask for help. Or the CU staff is so overworked that members lack the time to get answers, said Arbon, noting that in Oregon she has drawn from her stewardship of a Washington State small CU group known as CURTS-Credit Union Reciprocal Transactions and Services. That cooperative “buddy system,” she said, has worked well in that state. Help for small CUs, she said, “is an issue that has not been at the forefront of the Leagues, but I think it should be.” While the banker taxation fight remains important, assisting small CUs “is not getting the publicity it should.” Beside Arbon, other members of the Oregon League’s Small CU Committee are: Lisa Bush, vice president, Forest Park FCU; Ralph Goodwin, CEO, Old West FCU; Yvonne Hoekstra, CEO, IBEW/SJ Cascade FCU; David Low, vice president, Oregon Metro FCU; Judy Makela, CEO, Sunset Science Park FCU; Joe Tofte, CEO, Benton County School Employees CU; and Jaxene Nye, CEO, Mt. Hood FCU.

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