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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It’s being called pragmatic and requires “significant commitment” by management, but the Alabama Credit Union League maintains its two-year-old program to revitalize small CUs is bringing results. “We had one of our credit unions with negative growth that started out about to be merged and now has a 3.5% ROA,” boasted Jo Lynn Rutledge, executive vice president of financial services for the League and manager of the “Credit Union Commitment to Excellence” program. Among state leagues-many of which have shown new interest in trying to assist small CUs cope with survival-the Alabama venture is unusual in that it requires participating CUs to agree to staff visits at monthly board meetings as well as written agreements to meet specific financial goals. “Let me tell you that program has made a difference in our prosperity and in making me a better manager,” declared David Lenoir, manager of the $2 million, 800-member Little Flower Federal Credit Union of Mobile. Until Little Flower signed up with the CUCE program in January 2002, said Lenoir, the CU was at a loss as to exactly what steps or approach were needed to offer new products and reach a broader member base. “All we knew is that our board said our mission was to serve our members,” recalled Lenoir. CUCE staffers, said Lenoir, came on the premises and developed a marketing and business plan, “helped us introduce new types of loans, started a credit card program, and give us a road map on how to proceed.” The road map included a membership survey to be mailed out with a goal of “reaching the potential we know is there of 3,500 families in our community,” said Lenoir. In another testimonial, the $4.7 million Tuscaloosa County Credit Union, with a membership of 1,100, said it was on the verge of merging with another local CU last August and was under regulatory scrutiny with bad loans and faulty management when the CUCE program was implemented, said the new CU manager, Patty Mozingo. In May 2002 the CU had a 5.87% net capital ratio, below the 7% regulatory standard and had suffered through “some big charge offs and poor-quality unsecured loans,” when directors agreed to signing up with CUCE, she said. Mozingo, a former accounting supervisor at B. F. Goodrich Employees CU, said she was brought in to the CU and “we are now on the right track.” The CU’s goal, she said, “is to reach 7% capital by yearend and we’re now at 6.81%.” Apart from stricter loan policies as a result of CUCE, Tuscaloosa County has started a Visa debit program, developed business plans for asset-liability, dormant accounts, charge-offs and revised policies for collections and investments. The CU has also started its first quarterly newsletter for members. In a bio discussing the history of CUCE, Rutledge of the Alabama League noted the program was launched in the fall of 2001 “as an objective to identify credit unions with the desire to better serve their current and potential members.” It was set up to “raise awareness” of CUs’ need to expand service and become “viable financial institutions.” The program with its built-in “commitment” rules was designed to “help smaller credit unions with the motivation and desire to excel.” The League staff “is responsible for guiding the participating credit unions” through the procedures, but then “development specialists lead the board and management through a strategic planning session” to identify goals and objectives. The CUCE program began with a pilot group of 10 CUs under $50 million in assets, and since then another 12 are slated to sign up over the next six to nine months. CUCE has drawn national interest in recent weeks following a presentation on the program by Alabama League officials at the annual conference of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues meeting in July in Park City, Utah. A League spokesman said half a dozen other state Leagues inquired about CUCE. In discussing CUCE advantages, Lenoir of Little Flower CU, said League “development specialists” come to CU offices “at our request and once there they have full access.” The specialists are invited to the board meetings and when possible attend them, “but I talk to my development specialist maybe three times a month.” The calls are made “when problems arise,” he said. The program has “made me more focused from an economic and processing sense,” said Lenoir who operates Little Flower with one assistant. In noting a long list of CU successes with the program across the state, the Alabama League noted that seven new check card programs have been launched along with four new credit card programs, with one Web site “and two in process.” In addition there have been two data processor conversions and one upgrade and new home equity programs started. In addition to Little Flower and Tuscaloosa, other initial CUs listed as participants are: Dunlop CU, Madison; MBU Employees Federal CU, Pine Hill; Marvel City FCU, Bessemer; Montgomery County Employees CU; Morgan County Teachers FCU, Decatur; Naheola CU, Penington; Peoples’ First FCU, Birmingham and Phenix Pride FCU, Phenix City.

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