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LAFAYETTE, Calif. – Pat Wagner, a long-time champion of small credit unions and a former chairman of the California Credit Union League, is retiring next month. The 56-year-old Wagner, a former CEO of the old $8.5 million New World FCU here which has since merged into the $500 million Telesis Community CU of Chatsworth, stressed that her decision “done of my own accord” was taken with remorse at leaving an industry she has cherished. “I intend to simply take time off and do lots of traveling,” said Wagner who is credited with helping sway Washington lawmakers during the Congressional fight over H.R. 1151 when she was a vocal spokeswoman for small CUs. In California she has long been an articulate advocate for the Shapiro Group of mid-size institutions and served on various national panels including as a member of CUNA’s Renaissance Commission. “Her contributions are enormous as one who understands so well the priorities and the niche needs of our credit union membership,” said Grace Mayo, the president/CEO of Telesis which absorbed New World Jan. 31 following a decision by the New World board to look for a merger partner to remain competitive. The Lafayette CU, located in an upscale suburb of San Francisco, had faced income pressures and an inability to attract a sizable member base. Citing the bottom-line struggle in recent years, she said small CUs like hers must find the optimum solution for their members “and so as a CEO I was exhausted looking for options.” New members were not enrolling fast enough “and we had the option of simply going through our capital and letting the NCUA come in and tell us to merge,” she said. But the better alternative, she said, was to “choose our own partner” and solicit requests from large California CUs. As one of the bidders, Telesis, located in a Los Angeles suburb but with members in the Lafayette area, was a perfect match with a broad array of services, said Wagner. “This is a win-win situation for us and after three months into the merger, we believe we made the right choice,” said Wagner, who became assistant vice president-government and community relations at Telesis after the merger Wagner, who will retire June 10, had been CEO at New World since 1993. Wagner had been chairman of the California League in 2003 and previously was on the League’s Ad Hoc Field of Membership Committee, the Vision 2000 Revision Committee, the Shapiro Group Advisory Committee for seven years and on the Government Relations Committee. She served on CUNA’s Small Credit Union Committee and was awarded the Eternal Flame Award in 1997 by the California League for small CU work. She had also received the Distinguished Service Award in 2000 recognizing ongoing contributions to the movement. Thanking CU executives in California and elsewhere who supported her career over the years, Wagner said, “everyone reaches that moment when they need to make a change in their life” and she says she is at that point now. “I am very happy to report that I am retiring because I want to and because I can,” declared Wagner who began her CU career as a collections officer in 1976 at San Mateo CU in Redwood City. She joined New World in 1990 which formerly was the CU for Carnation Milk Corp., later bought by Nestle Corp. a development which figured in her becoming a vocal lobbyist for small CUs. “The language in H.R. 1151 would have effectively taken away our entire business by eliminating our field of membership because of the Nestle takeover,” she said. From then on, she got involved in political advocacy and became a spokesman on what she said were strategic pieces of legislation impacting small CUs as well as larger institutions. Should Small CUs Merge With Larger CUs? Where it becomes necessary, she said “there is nothing wrong” with a small CU seeking out a receptive merger to get the most benefits for its members, she said. Asked if other small CUs should follow her lead in scouting for a merger partner, she replied: “No, I think they should look at their own situation and do what’s best for their members. Sometimes that means hiring a new CEO, sometimes that means merging, and sometimes that means just staying as you are and working to keep your members doing business with you. “What they must do is stay informed and get involved politically because if anyone thinks the bankers are only after the large credit unions, let me tell you, that is truly not the case,” she said. “The bankers want the competition of credit unions, all credit unions, out of their way so they can control the market of financial services,” Wagner declared, adding “it is just that simple.” But she stressed that small CUs must still assume an advocacy role. “The reason I became as involved as I did was I wanted to show small credit union CEOs that they could participate and they could make a difference. No one needs to do what I did, but everyone must take part at some level.” -

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