There are many good ideas springing up in the world of credit unions these days, but a few bad ones as well. At least some credit unions are the only financial institutions that have a choice when it comes to selecting a deposit insurance provider. They can choose between NCUSIF and Ohio-based private insurer ASI. Having choices. That’s a good idea. NASCUS has held an exploratory meeting with an FDIC official to see if the number of deposit insurance choices should be expanded further. The country’s second largest credit union, State Employees CU of North Carolina, has asked its state regulator to ask NASCUS to ask FDIC if it might be possible at some point in the future for that credit union and others to choose FDIC coverage. CEO Jim Blaine makes a good case that such a move could save his credit union a lot of money. Although recently lowered, the NCUA imposed Overhead Transfer Rate (OTR) always looms in the background in these discussions. Maybe there could be possible cost savings, but does that outweigh all the negative political ramifications for credit unions joining banks under FDIC coverage? Besides credit unions having the same insurer as banks effectively eliminating another difference between banks and credit unions, could such a move give added momentum to those who advocate a combined insurance fund and eventually a merger of financial industry regulatory agencies? On its face, going the FDIC route is a bad idea. From a perception (reality?) viewpoint, it is a really bad idea! However, sometimes increasing choices is a good idea. For example, as the dust settles in the legal skirmishes between American Express and major card issuers Visa and MasterCard, credit unions can now offer the AMEX cards as well (one already is doing so). And if the deal between PULSE (partly owned by credit unions) and Discover becomes reality, credit unions will also have the option of offering that card. Do credit unions really need these added choices for their members? Probably not, but having them can make credit unions more competitive. That’s why it is a good idea. The number of credit union mergers is increasing (another good idea). So is the size of the merging institutions (still another good idea). Thus it is not surprising that the two major shared branching networks, Service Center Corporation (SCC) with strong Michigan roots, and Financial Service Centers Cooperative (FSCC), located in the CO-OP Network’s backyard, have announced recently that they have agreed to form a “strategic partnership” (their words). That’s a good idea. Although officials of both organizations insist an eventual merger is not in the cards, and that the new partnership is not a preliminary step toward that eventuality, merging into one national shared branching network for credit unions is an even better idea. Watch for members-owners-partners-users to at some point in the future demand it, especially since a merger would undoubtedly lead to a larger number of multiple use branches for credit union members. After all, brick and mortar branches are back on the scene big time (Did they ever vanish entirely?) It appears that in places like Florida, a new branch is springing up overnight on every major intersection. With fewer credit unions, more branches cooperatively serving credit union members make sense from a cost-effective as well as member service viewpoint. And speaking of national CU organizational mergers, a coupling between CO-OP Network (owner of one of the shared branching networks referenced above, SCC), and Credit Union 24 would also be a good idea. In fact, it keeps getting better as the entire ATM scene continues to undergo a record amount of shuffling and re-dealing. It could make moot the many small, often localized deals, including a number with banks that continue to crop up. With the announced retirement of the CO-OP Network’s long-time and outstanding CEO, Bob Rose, could the timing be any better? Every year about this time, NAFCU’s board and senior management staff sit across the table from the Federal Reserve Board. Not only a good idea but a great idea. What a golden opportunity to brief a very important body on the current status of credit unions. With apologies to NAFCU, which came up with the face-to-face annual meeting many years ago, no involvement by CUNA, even though the much larger national credit union trade group also represents state-chartered CUs, is a bad idea. A number of credit union organizations have reduced the number of their board positions, in some leagues for example to nine. That’s a good idea. Years ago, CUNA had a board of approximately 300 persons. Its primary accomplishment each year was to set the date, time, and place of its next meeting. CUNA has long sense reduced the size of its board to a much more manageable number which of course was and still is a good idea. Which leads to the $64 question: What is the right size for a credit union board, a league board, and a national CU association board? A final bad idea that is just beginning to gain momentum: credit union groups assessing higher fees and dues to larger credit unions just because they can afford them. This policy is bound to backfire at some point. Over the years, various credit union organizations have made some successful as well as some not so successful attempts to put together cooperative advertising campaigns. The system adopted by California and Nevada credit unions at their recent annual meetings is not only a good idea, it is an excellent idea. (I’ll have more to say on their unique advocacy-advertising program in my next column.) Good ideas and bad ideas involving credit unions seem to be surfacing faster than ever. I would be curious to know what readers think about the ones I have cited above. Agree? Disagree? I look forward to receiving your e-mails at email@example.com on these or any others. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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