NAPLES, Fla.-For her first speech of the New Year, NCUA Board Member Debbie Matz looked into her crystal ball to predict some of the hurdles credit unions will face in 2004. She named off three at the American Association of Credit Union Leagues’ Winter Meeting-tax threats, interest-rate risk, and the disappearance of small credit unions-each of which Matz said could be big opportunities for the state leagues. “When leagues help credit unions reach more people in their membership field,” Matz explained, “they give lawmakers more reasons to preserve credit unions’ tax exemption.” She cited the Michigan and Florida leagues as examples of advocating for new laws providing consumers alternatives to predatory lenders. Matz also said that the leagues should help reinforce NCUA’s advice on handling interest rate risk, particularly in the anticipated rising rate environment, and particularly with credit unions’ growth in fixed rate mortgages. Finally, Matz added, leagues can help small credit unions survive by offering programs to do back office work, donate computers and equipment, mentor, and others. The board member cited an AACUL survey that found 38 leagues have responded to the disappearance of small credit unions by offering an average of nearly 10 programs. Despite these challenges, Matz stated, “I am optimistic about the future of the credit union system. League presidents have shown an extraordinary ability and commitment to lead credit unions.”