Time for some follow-up comments on several recent columns that either generated varied reader reaction, or where some later related developments proved interesting, or both. One example: Since my column pooh poohing Columbia Credit Union’s on-going attempt to become a bank, that situation has evolved into a major Credit Union Times news story as new revelations are uncovered almost on a daily basis. In fact, based on what our reporter David Morrison has learned and stern statements by state and federal regulators, the membership vote, which is the centerpiece of the conversion process, has been exposed as flawed at best, or downright unfair and illegal at its worst. The bottom line at this point is that the extremely close membership approval to convert is moot. The election must be conducted all over again only this time under much stricter election rules and under the watchful eyes of regulators to ensure full compliance. Never has a credit union board, its CEO and management staff, its consultants, and certain prior CU convert officials been put into such an unfavorable spotlight. As previously predicted here, the Columbia scenario will probably lead to the end of credit union efforts to become banks, especially banks that eventually issue stock. On a personal note, I am disappointed that the long-time CEO of Columbia CU, the man who put the once sleepy little railroad credit union on the map, Marvin Showalter, refused to speak out from retirement and give his views and perspective on the situation pro or con. Another example: Since writing my column about credit union CEOs getting unceremoniously booted out of their corner offices, I have had many off-the-record conversations with former CU CEOs. Some are back in the CEO saddle. Others are seeking a new CEO position. All have sad stories to tell. And at least three more CU CEOs have been shown the door including 84-year old Hubert Sibley who “retired” on very short notice after serving as CEO of South Florida Educational FCU for more than 50 years. As I originally said in that column, there has to be a better way. Directly related, a recent Credit Union Times Net Poll on the subject indicated conclusively that almost 44% of the 545 persons casting a vote feel that CU CEOs get the pink slip for falling out of favor with their boards for reasons other than performance. A pretty sad state of affairs for folks who claim to be in the people business. A series of recent moves by giant United Airlines Employees’ Credit Union serves as another example as it relates to a somewhat recent column in which I predicted that the days are numbered for single-sponsor credit unions. At one time United’s CU was the poster child for plain vanilla credit unions. It offered no checking accounts, credit or debit cards, mortgages, ATM service, etc. But it paid such a high interest rate on savings that it had restrictions on how much money any one member could accumulate in his or her account. In recent months the $4.5 billion, 68 year-old CU expanded its FOM far beyond active and retired UAL employees, added many new products and services, hired a big league banker as CEO, changed its name to Alliant Credit Union, introduced a non-United Airlines logo, and stepped up its marketing efforts. To repeat: The days of the single sponsor credit union are numbered. United is but the most recent example. Who will be next? Keep your eye on American Airlines FCU. Another example: In a recent column on the latest mega, mega banking merger that would create trillion dollar J.P. Morgan Bank, I suggested that these mergers could provide a golden opportunity for the CU industry to speak out by calling them what they are, namely, anti-consumer. A CUNA PR spokesperson countered that CUNA had already done that by getting some good national media exposure that such gigantic banking couplings have proven to be good for credit unions. True enough, but not my point which was for credit union industry representatives to tell politicians and decision makers not what makes the bank mergers good for CUs, but what makes them so bad for the average consumer. Speaking of mergers, several months ago I talked about mergers involving credit unions and the organizations that serve them. I predicted many more on the horizon. The most recent example involves the North Dakota and South Dakota Leagues. They are hooking up under the new moniker of Mid-America Credit Union League and Affiliates to be effective January 1, 2005. The action is being billed as a consolidation not a merger. Could someone explain the difference? It seems to fit the description of a merger a lot more closely than previous leagues joining forces via a management contract. There will be a single CEO, yet to be selected, managing a merged staff located in Bismarck, North Dakota. All 112 CUs in both states will be members of the new organization. I assume there will be only one board of directors. The organizers are calling this consolidation a pioneering effort in regionalization. However, to most people, the Dakotas do not a region make. In fact, “Mid-America” would seem a more apt description involving states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and Illinois. But don’t hold your breath that any of these states will be seeking a marriage partner anytime soon. Final example: A common theme evolved in feedback to my very recent column regarding actions taken by the current board of Washington State Employees Credit Union to make converting to a bank at that CU very difficult if not impossible. To paraphrase, reaction came down to two points: First, that if the credit union’s board intended to send a strong anti-conversion message (they did), they were very successful. Second, whatever credit union boards do, subsequent credit union boards can undo. Keep those letters, calls, and e-mails coming; I appreciate them. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected].

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Peter Westerman


Credit Union Times

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