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ALTUS, Okla. – “What’s all the fuss” might sum up the attitude lately of the chairman of the American Bankers Association, Ken Fergeson, regarding the ongoing stir over his debate with State Employees CU of North Carolina President/CEO Jim Blaine at last February’s Government Affairs Conference sponsored by CUNA. “I never felt mistreated” at the GAC meeting, the Oklahoma bank executive told Credit Union Times after the newspaper received a flurry of letters to the editor with CU executives apologizing – or supporting – what some claimed were impolite remarks by Blaine. Both Blaine and Fergeson have written letters reiterating their stance on the bank attacks with the ABA chairman insisting he carries no ill will toward CUs though he still harbors strong views that “very large aggressive credit unions that try to operate as banks” should be taxed. As for the GAC, Fergeson, who also is chairman of NBC Bank here, said “I enjoyed the crowd and the meeting,” but on expansion-minded CUs he has not changed his opinion they “draw attention to themselves and to regulators,” and once they “graduate” into full commercial banks, “they need to play by the rules.” Singled out for criticism has been Tinker FCU of Oklahoma City which Fergeson argues is a large CU that needs to be reined in. “I’d call Tinker one of the new breeds,” said the ABA chairman adding he has come into contact with Tinker through other banks Fergeson owns in Enid, Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Tinker management last February expressed puzzlement following the GAC meeting at being singled out since the Oklahoma CU said it did not have facilities “anywhere near Altus” which is in far southwest Oklahoma near the Texas line. A Tinker spokesman said this week the Altus banker “still doesn’t understand the difference between a non-profit cooperative and a profit-based commercial bank.” Using the hospital analogy, the spokesman said “nobody questions” the tax structure of a privately-owned hospital operated for profit sitting next door to a non-profit hospital run by a faith-based group of nuns, for example. “They operate side by side under different corporate structures” and thus, there is no reason that a cooperative, tax exempt credit union cannot exist next to a commercial bank, said the spokesman. In his comments to Credit Union Times, Fergeson said he “gets along fine” with his CU competitor in Altus, the $45 million Red River FCU. But Mark Taylor, president of Red River, said “I certainly don’t agree with the statements” of Fergeson on taxation, and he called Fergeson’s views “self-serving.” Taylor said also he has had little contact with Altus banker over the years since Fergeson has been immersed in the ABA leadership. “Fergeson used to be president of the Oklahoma Bankers Association before running for the ABA job,” recalled Taylor suggesting the biggest competition of NBC Bank and other community institutions is not CUs, “but WalMart.” He said the giant retailer has been expanding into financial services and consumer lending at a rapid rate in Oklahoma and elsewhere by installing facilities in their superstores. Despite his differences with CUs, Fergeson said there are many areas where the ABA wants to work closely with the industry citing bankruptcy reform and the uniform credit reporting legislation. “We agree there,” he said. -

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