My first reaction when I heard about the letter CUNA CEO Dan Mica very quietly sent to the CEOs of the 100 largest banks pointing out to them that their banking association dues money could be put to more productive use than bashing credit unions, I thought it was a good idea (See CU Times August 18 issue). It was a well crafted letter and everything he said in it made sense. Individual dues paying banks were seeing a growing portion of their money being earmarked to rein in credit unions and get them taxed. Mica correctly judged that the big banks have a lot more important issues to deal with than that handful of pesky credit unions large enough for them to even notice let alone consider them a threat. Maybe, Mica must have reasoned, the bank CEOs would agree with him that rather than constantly engaging in skirmishes costly to both sides, banks and credit unions could find ways to cooperate on issues that are important to both groups. After all, in recent months a number of bank connected individuals have come right out and said that banks would do well to lay off because this is one battle they have never been able to win after years (and who knows how much money?) of trying. It would not have surprised me at all if at least some of these bank CEOs would have said, yeah, that makes a lot more sense than both of us constantly whining to lawmakers, a strategy that Mica pointed out could backfire and have dire consequences neither side would find very pleasant. So how did the bank CEOs react to Mica’s letter? We don’t know because like the initial letter itself, CUNA has chosen to play this latest chapter of the bank versus credit union wars extremely close to their vest. And that’s just one of several things I find troubling about this latest effort to put a stop to the out-of-control efforts by the banking trade groups to put credit unions out of business or at least severely weaken them as a viable competitor. After the fact, Mica has said he didn’t want the letter to generate any headlines. He wanted to keep it quiet. He wanted it to stay under the radar. He should know better. Sending a letter to 100 strangers who represent the opposition and expecting them to be mum about it is wishful thinking. Expecting at least some of them not to immediately share a copy of the letter with their lobbyists is nave. It would appear that their photocopy machines are working overtimes. What happened is that a big slice of the banking industry was aware of the letter long before anyone outside of Mica’s small credit union circle and certainly before Credit Union Times. Our editor just happened to spot a mention of it in a banking publication, but weeks after it had been sent out. It was at that point our reporters dug into the story. And they are still digging. Now that the letter is out in the open, our reporters want to report to our readers what kind of reaction it received from the bank CEOs. Sorry says CUNA, that’s really none of your business and thus none of the business of the thousands of CUNA dues payers who subscribe to this publication. CUNA PR spokespersons did say however that there has been reaction, but refused to give any numbers or any indication whatsoever whether it was positive or negative. We can only guess, at least based on the banking trade groups take on the fallout from the letter. As could be predicted, as soon as the banking associations got their hands on the letter they immediately put their own spin on it. Credit unions are crying uncle they said. Credit unions are getting desperate they said. CUNA is getting worried that the entire banking industry is on to them they said. And much more. You get the idea. Bank trade groups also said that their members (presumably including the CEOs of the 100 largest banks) drive the issues and they want them to continue to battle CUs. Mica is not so sure. Neither am I. How much better it would have been if Mica had shared the letter with the credit union media including his own organization’s news outlets. By not doing so, the banking industry gained an advantage and can parlay that advantage into further manipulated communications with their own members, the media, and lawmakers. All of this is not to say I now don’t think the letter was a good idea. I still do. It is the clandestine way it was and still is being handled that bothers me and should bother CU dues payers. I also think the letter might have carried more weight if it had been sent as a single voice of the entire industry rather than just from one CEO of one (albeit the largest and most influential) credit union trade group. Based on my information, not even other credit union trade groups like NAFCU were clued in before the fact. What’s especially unfortunate, besides not presenting a united credit union front, is that the content of Mica’s letter represents so much common sense that it might just have worked. Maybe it at least served to plant a seed with some influential banking individuals? Perhaps a good next step would be to widely disseminate a laundry list of very specific ways the two groups can cooperate for the betterment of both banks and credit unions, but more importantly, consumers. That is something lawmakers would probably much rather hear than still another volley of charges and countercharges. As Mica also correctly pointed out, at some point lawmakers will grow weary of hearing from both sides and decide to take matters in their own hands. When that happens, everybody loses. 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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