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As I wind down my league activities and think about what our industry faces in terms of future challenges, one of the most serious issues that our leadership needs to address is credit unions seeking to convert to bank charters, such as Community CU in Plano, Texas recently announced. I’ve always suggested that there is one simple way to determine the differences between the cooperative and for-profit sectors of our financial community. And that is, to follow the money (profits). Banks reward their stockholders and management, through the distribution of their profits. Customers are “used” to generate those profits. I think decisions that pit the best interests of stockholders and management against those of the customer rarely favor the customer, unless there is a long-term strategy that ultimately benefits the first two groups also. Credit unions have grown and thrived because of our cooperative principles. The distribution of profits have directly benefited our member owners. And if the profits generated by the cooperative structure are somehow disproportionately directed toward a small group of individuals, rather than the membership as a whole, that soon becomes glaringly apparent, and can lead to changes in the elected or professional leadership. It seems to me that when credit union management and boards make the decision to convert, that the real question to be raised is just who benefits from such an action. And when we hear pronouncements such as “we will be better able to serve our members” and “this is strictly a business decision”, those statements need to be challenged. Just how are members to be better served, especially in lieu of their loss of ownership and ability to elect the leadership of the organization. Will the rank and file member earn more on their savings, pay less on loans, be charged less fees? And just who in the credit union does this “business decision” benefit the most? It all gets right back to the money (profits). Where are they being directed now, and where will they go in the future? I truly hope those who will help lead our industry in the future continue to ask those questions, and beyond that, demand that the answers be shared with the membership, when the question of conversion is raised. Bob Bianchini CEO Oklahoma Credit Union League Tulsa, Okla.

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