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OKLAHOMA CITY – If there’s one lesson learned from the debate at CUNA’s GAC that featured the head of the American Bankers Association and Jim Blaine, president/CEO, State Employees Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C. it is this: “credit unions need to do more in educating community bankers about our business.” That was the message from the president and CEO of Oklahoma’s largest CU, Michael Kloiber, of the $1.29 billion Tinker Federal FCU, whose CU came in for a few barbs at the D.C. conference. “I realize we have a tough chore on our hands in trying to educate these community bankers on our special mission and structure and it’s a lesson they may not want to learn,” said Kloiber, and yet he said the industry needs to try harder and in some cases tone down the rhetoric “so there will be less misunderstanding.” Tinker was singled out as a competitor which is taking advantage of its tax-exempt status to expand by the ABA chairman and fellow Oklahoman, Ken Fergeson, of Altus. “Look, I think it was pretty admirable that Fergeson even took the time to come to our meeting, right in to the lion’s den, considering he thought he might come in for a lynching,” said Kloiber who expressed dismay at the tone of the debate which pitted Fergeson against Blaine. “I’m not sure with all the jabs and counter punches, we really put our best foot forward,” said Kloiber maintaining that “this was an opportunity to educate” community bankers like Fergeson and that opportunity may have been lost in the CUNA forum. Kloiber, who said he had never met Fergeson before, had breakfast with him at what was described as “a friendly and cordial” Oklahoma Credit Union League breakfast preceding the debate. In his remarks, Fergeson charged that “every morning they (Tinker) have a 30% advantage” because of Tinker’s CU’s tax status but CU officials expressed surprise that the ABA head would find Tinker a competitive threat. “We have no office anywhere close to Altus,” said a spokesman. Fergeson is president of NbanC located in Altus, a community of 21,000 in far southwest Oklahoma near the Texas Panhandle. Tinker has its major operations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa in eastern Oklahoma.. Fergeson’s remarks, observed Kloiber, do in many ways reflect the lack of understanding “of our structure, our mission, the role of our volunteers, our purpose and how we are organized.” Like others within the Oklahoma League, Kloiber said he is not nave about the continued threat from banker attacks. The industry, he said, is prepared to fight with all its resources to renewed assaults, but still there has to be room for dialogue and discussion with community bankers. Echoing Kloiber’s comments, Bob Bianchini, president and CEO of the League, said the trade group does hope “to establish a relationship” with Fergeson and other community bankers in the state “in a setting that is not inflammatory.” “We would like to follow through and spend some time with him on the issues,” said Bianchini, adding a “common sense” discussion of those issues needs to be started “with those folks in a direct way.” CUs, he concluded “will not be afraid to fight back” if challenged, but there is an open window for dialogue. -

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