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Be forewarned. This is an I-told-you-so column. It is all about the rise and fall of the much-ballyhooed Credit Union Association of the West (CUAW), which is featured in a news story on page 1 of this issue. To refresh readers’ memories, CUAW was the 2001 brainchild of the CEOs of the California-Nevada, Washington, and Oregon credit union leagues. The Hawaii and Alaska leagues were also invited to participate but declined, an interesting development since California and Hawaii had done a lot of CUAW-type things together for years. And still do. CUAW’s announced purpose at the time, to paraphrase, was to create a formal alliance to be able to do for member credit unions better than what individual leagues could do for them on their own. CUAW boasted that it represented almost 1,000 credit unions and over $100 billion in assets. Right out of the box, CUAW created a logo. It set up a seven-person board. It developed a Web site, since closed down. One of its top priorities was to be development of a master educational event calendar. Whoopee, others and I said at the time! It also said it would be active in compliance, support programs for small credit unions, research efforts, and networking. If any of these goals were accomplished, they were kept secret. In fairness, what CUAW said it wouldn’t do is hire any staff instead relying on existing league staff to handle day-to-day chores. It said it wouldn’t charge separate dues to belong since membership was automatic to all credit unions that were already members of the four leagues involved. It wouldn’t have a separate publication, put on regional conferences, or sponsor any awards and recognition programs. As far as I know, they kept their word and didn’t do any of these things, but for that matter not much of anything else either. A number of people, including me in an August 8, 2001 column that was much maligned by a CUAW spokesperson, questioned the need for a super league, or even another credit union organization for that matter, but the founders of CUAW said in essence, just wait and see how great this is going to work out. From that point on, it was heard from hardly at all. Now we know why. When they thought no one was paying any attention, the Credit Union Association of the West was disbanded, an obvious failure. Or was it? A recent release, absent any direct quotes from any of the principal players, claimed that the group had achieved its objectives and, according to the release, that the organization was no longer needed although the leagues would continue to have a good working relationship. They must have known deep down that anybody who would buy that line of malarkey would have to be pretty stupid. The release went on to say: “The business partners of CU Association of the West collectively agree that the partnership completed its original objective of opening the availability of the products and service of the four state leagues to member credit unions in all four states.” Never mind that all these leagues were already doing just that before CUAW was created just as contiguous leagues all over the country have been doing forever. What is most interesting about the demise of the CUAW news release is that it was only issued after a curious Credit Union Times reporter began snooping around to find out why CUAW was virtually unheard of for years. Only then was it discovered that one reason for the deafing silence was that CUAW no longer existed. And only then did “CUAW officials” quickly issue a release trying to re-justify its original reason for being, as well as its reason for being disbanded after accomplishing basically nothing. Not to beat a CUAW when its down, but some of what I said in that August column while questioning the need for still another credit union organization at still another level, was the potential harm to the overall credit union industry that would occur when still another CU group got involved in governmental affairs issues including lobbying in Washington, D.C., something that was laid out as part of the organization’s program of work. Or the misguided wisdom of attempting to set up a regional advertising program. As an aside, it is interesting to note that while CUAW was dying on the vine, the California CU League created its own mandatory participation statewide advocacy-advertising program that won the support of all but about 30 California credit unions that chose to drop out rather than be dunned for ad money. The $64,000 question in 2001 and still today is why was another association needed to foster what should be normal cooperation and sharing among state leagues? The answer four years later is crystal clear, it isn’t! Leagues already have two organizations in place to help the cooperative process along. One is called AACUL (the American Association of Credit Union Leagues). The other is CUNA. In many ways it is just as well that CUAW turned out to be the predicted flop. As I said at the time CUAW was created, besides causing even more confusion in regulatory and political circles over what group(s) really represent credit unions, and being a source of costly and time-wasting duplication, if it had succeeded it might have encouraged similar groups. Like a Credit Union Association of the South? The North? The East? The Midwest? The Southwest? The Southeast? The Northwest? The Northeast? Then they could all join forces and be known as NACU (the National Association of Credit Unions). If anything is to be learned from the rise and fall of the Credit Union Association of the West it is that there are already too many credit union organizations for credit unions to support. Before any more new groups are proposed, and certainly before they are launched, getting the input and eventual approval of those credit unions expected to pay the freight, something CUAW neglected to do, is a must. 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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