LAS VEGAS – The “Big Brother- Big Sister” concept of largecredit unions offering financial assistance to smaller peers tosteer them into front-line public advocacy campaigns became a primetopic during the California/Nevada Credit Union League convention.“For those who come from large credit unions like mine, it's hardfor us to approach you on something like this, but I ask you to bebold,” implored Mary Cunningham, president/CEO of the $650 millionUSA FCU in San Diego during a convention panel session. The SanDiego CU executive made reference to the lobbying reticence ofsmall CUs who out of fear or shyness are reluctant to ask largerCUs for financial aid to participate in face-to-face meetings withfederal or state lawmakers in Sacramento, Carson City or in D.C.Leaders within state leagues and CUNA contend the issue of broadgrassroots support has become paramount in recent months amidstheightened banker attacks. “You have the powerful, personal storiesto be told” in public forums, declared Cunningham noting thewillingness of large CUs in California and across the U.S. to ponyup travel expenses of small CUs so the industry's message from thesmallest CUs can be heard. CEOs of large CUs, she said, realize theimportance of the small CU voice in lobbying because of close tieswith consumer issues, an area closely identified by legislators.Falsely, she said, some small CUs fear offers by larger CUs amountto an attempt for a predatory merger, but that premise can bequickly dispelled. For the most part, larger CUs with no designs onsmaller CUs are “more than happy” to pay for airfare or housingexpenses and “would do it in a heartbeat” if they knew the CEO waswilling to make the trip. Prior to making a `Hike the Hill' trip,Gloria Lopez, president/CEO of the $3.4 million Knudsen FCU inSanta Clarita, said she had many trepidations including anunderstanding that “only the big boys and league staff” make thoseWashington visits. But once in D.C, league staff and lawmakerstaffers made her feel comfortable – “like a walk down the yellowbrick road” adding she was impressed by the organization andefficiency of the operation. Now, she said, she is a convert to thenotion of CEOs of small CUs speaking out more forcefully becauseshe realizes the banks “are out to get us after they go after thebig ones first.” Jon Hernandez, the new chairman of the ShapiroGroup Advisory Committee, which put on the convention panelsession, said he intends to take several steps next year to improvethe “comfort zone” of CEOs of small CUs in public advocacy. Forone, he is insisting that the small peer group needs to sticktogether and gather for meetings and dinners to share ideas. Alwaysgrouping them with larger CUs can be a mistake, said Hernandez whoalso is CEO of the $20 million South Bay Health Services FCU inTorrance. [email protected]

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