Listen to this latest barrage of anti-credit union rhetoric: “The credit union industry is controlled by well paid insiders of a few trade groups which themselves are controlled by a relatively small minority of very large dues paying credit unions. It is the smaller credit unions that tend to stick to their original mission, which is to help low-income people get fair access to financial services. But many of these smaller credit unions have enormous needs that are not being met. Many of the large credit union CEOs have little or no interest in helping low-income people or their smaller brethren.” Sound familiar? Just more of the same old stuff from banking lobbyists trying to harm credit unions, right? Not really. These words are taken from an article in the October 15, 2004 issue of The Northwestern Financial Review, a publication that we’ve been told is well read within the banking industry. At the end of the full-page article, which mostly blasts credit union trade groups, large credit unions, and those who manage them, and advises banking lobbyists how to win the battle, is a brief biographical sketch of the author: “Norm D’Amours is a former congressman who served on the Banking Committee and was chairman of the National Credit Union Administration from 1993 to 2000. D’Amours delivered these comments at the Iowa Bankers Association convention.” Those familiar with that mid-September D’Amours Iowa speech to the bankers in the home state of current NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson, have wondered out loud if the most unpopular chairman ever to head NCUA will ever stop criticizing credit unions? Not likely, now that he appears to have found a lucrative way to make money while doing what he did consistently even as chairman, namely attack credit unions and CU organizations every chance he got. But now it looks like D’Amours has found a whole new career on the banking industry speaking circuit. I would assume that the dozens of not-for-profit, tax-exempt, 501 (C) 6 banking groups pay well, at least to someone with former credit union credentials (although tainted) like D’Amours? D’Amours continues to be a one trick pony as he was during his NCUA tenure. Don’t take my word for it. Here’s how D’Amours himself put it in the lead paragraph of that same Financial Review article: “You can’t generalize about credit unions. All big credit unions aren’t bad; and some small credit unions aren’t always great. I’ve seen some big credit unions doing a magnificent job reaching out to low income people. Unfortunately, their numbers aren’t large.” Credit union leaders were never able to convince Chairman D’Amours that credit unions were doing an excellent job of serving all of their members. Everyone but the banking lobbyists and D’Amours understood that included members at all income levels. What’s probably more disturbing than his latest diatribes which include nothing new is the fact that D’Amours has been out of the loop so long that he doesn’t know, or chooses to ignore, all the changes NCUA and credit unions have made since he was fired by the President and booted out of NCUA. Under initiatives put in place by former Chairman Dennis Dollar, credit unions have been able to take in millions of potential members from low-income areas. In fact, once Dollar turned around the negativity and board in-fighting so prevelant when D’Amours was in charge, the list of what credit unions have been able to do for members and potential members became long and impressive. Yet, D’Amours devotes considerable space in his article claiming that credit unions do basically nothing for the “underserved,” certainly far less than banks do. He goes on to layout a strategy for banks to use this erroneous fact to their advantage in attacking CUs. Almost as soon as D’Amours was hired to give that speech to bankers in Iowa, Credit Union Times heard about it and decided it would be worth covering for our readers. The Iowa Bankers said we were not allowed to do so. When asked why, they admitted that D’Amours requested that no credit union press be in the room when he spoke. He singled out Credit Union Times as the one publication he especially did not want to cover his remarks in Iowa. When our editors learned that the banking and mainstream press were going to be allowed in, we reminded the Iowa Bankers Association that as a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization they couldn’t pick and choose which members of the press could have access. They still refused to budge. Eventually we made arrangements for an independent journalist to cover the event with no indication that he or she would be doing the story for us. The one-upmanship finally ceased when the Iowa Bankers decided that D’Amours would make his presentation in a government affairs session which has traditionally been a closed session. So we gave up on the idea of being on hand to see what D’Amours would have to say about credit unions to the bankers. Then along comes his article summarizing the high points (low points?) of his speech. What a shame that someone who made his living off of credit unions for so long decided to join forces with those who would like nothing better than to put credit unions out of business, even those doing a good job of serving the underserved. Final thought: It seems clear that D’Amours hopes to be invited by many other banking groups. Thus, whenever credit unions learn that D’Amours is speaking in their area, they should consider writing letters to the editor before and/or after he speaks. These letters should put who he is in perspective. They should include the fact that the President fired him four years ago and that he has had no involvement with credit unions ever since. They should set the record straight. 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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