For years in speeches and columns I have been railing on the subject of change. Credit unions and the dozens of groups that serve them, I would say, can ignore change, fight change, or embrace change. For a long time, there were always plenty of examples available in all three categories to make the point, especially regarding how credit unions fought change. In recent years, however, more and more credit unions and their support groups have taken to embracing change. The proof is even evident in the program topics at large, national credit union conferences, such as NAFCU’s Annual Conference and Exhibition now underway in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. NAFCU program planners now routinely include subjects on the conference agenda that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards change. Like member business loans, trusts, SBA backed loans, overdraft protection programs, CMOs and other sophisticated investments, international remittance services, Check 21, community CUs, name changes, retail branches, non-member check cashing services, and FOM expansions to take in the underserved and industry wide professionals (TIP). Also, CUs converting to bank charters, mergers involving credit unions, leagues, corporates, and CU data processors, indirect lending, selling credit union card portfolios, national brokerage and mortgage services, CUSOs of every type, and online services and other tech advancements too numerous to even mention. The list reflecting a new attitude toward change in the credit union industry is long, impressive, and continues to grow like topsy. Still, some things never change. Note the following quote: “The annual report of the NCUA now trumpets that credit union assets increased approximately 10% (last year), twice the (previous year’s) growth rate. CUs also replaced commercial banks as the fastest growing type of U.S. financial institution. The report did not mention the oppressive commercial banks’ regulations and taxes to which CUs are not subject.” This quote was from a letter that could have been written by banking lobbyists yesterday, but it is actually from one dated March 28, 1983 seeking $50 contributions to support the war against credit unions. The letterhead reads: “Bankers Committee To Eliminate Favoritism To Credit Unions.” At the bottom of this special American Bankers Association committee stationery are these words: “A Special Activity of the Bankers Committee for Tax Equality.” Attached to the letter were a news release and a “Legislative Update” sheet. The release was headlined, “Bankers Committee Urges Elimination of Credit Union Income Tax Exemption at Senate Finance Committee Hearings on Taxation.” It contained these words: “Credit unions have assets in excess of $80 billion and cost the U.S. Treasury approximately $115 million in tax revenues according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.” Among the many juicy tidbits in the legislative update is this one: “Credit unions are expected to spend $1.8 billion on data processing between 1981 and 1985.” To which my reaction then and now is the same: So? My favorite, however, is a quote from a once popular, long defunct credit union publication known as Rudolph Modely’s Report on Credit Unions which reads, “.some credit union leaders feel that the loss of their tax-exempt status is inevitable.” Forget whether or not that quote had any credibility in a publication referred to in some CU circles as “the National Enquirer of credit unions.” But do remember that prediction was hot news 21 years ago. When I received a copy of this old banking industry letter from retired Washington Credit Union League president Bruce Rouillard (retired guys like to clean out old files) the other day, I decided to do an archival search of my own to prove that whether 21 years ago or 21 minutes ago the banking industry is still whining to anyone who will listen and still singing from the same song sheet. And they are having about as much success today as they did back then with basically the same agenda. Here’s a sampling of what I found in the archives, proving conclusively that some things really never change. A headline from a January 23, 1995 edition of the daily American Banker newspaper: “Top Bank Trade Groups Joining Forces To Press for Credit Union Taxation.” If it sounds familiar, it should. Fast forward to the June 4, 2004 front page of Credit Union Times and this headline: “All for One, One for All; Three Major Banking Groups Join Forces to Strip Credit Unions of Tax Exemption.” Joint efforts didn’t work nine years ago and they won’t work now. In that same year the then president (chairman) of the ABA announced in association publications that “reining in credit unions (would be) the trade association’s third-highest priority for the year, behind reduction of deposit insurance premiums, and reform of environmental lender liability laws.” Apparently the elimination of CUs is still a top priority. He went on to point out that ABA has helped state banking groups finance lawsuits against credit unions in North Carolina, Michigan, Utah, Tennessee, Maine, Texas, Montana, and Nebraska, with more to come. Sound familiar? As I keep saying, in the world of the banking industry, some things never change. I can’t remember the exact dates, but back 10 or 15 years ago is also when bank trade groups were busy running ads featuring ducks, writing op-ed pieces and letters to editors, sending postcards, attempting to join a CU, doing brochures that unveiled the “real truth” about credit unions, participating in debates, and producing videos featuring actors in skits illustrating just how bad those nasty credit unions had become. So what’s on their agenda right now? All of the above. With a bushel basket full of same old, same old additional faded and tattered clips in front of me, I have no doubt that when it comes to bank paranoia over CUs and what they do about it, some things never change. Looking both back and ahead, the biggest thing that hasn’t and won’t change is that the won, lost column still shows the banking lobbyists on the right hand side. 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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