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LAS VEGAS – Like others in the movement, former NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar is expressing puzzlement at the stagnancy in membership growth of U.S. credit unions-a miniscule 1.4% increase in 2004 -despite more branches “and access points.” Addressing a throng of 1,400 credit union directors at the opening general session of the National Directors Convention here, Dollar said the “build it and they will come” theory is not working exactly, referring to the proliferation of new CU branches and shared operations. “This is not a field of dreams,” said Dollar alluding to the Hollywood film and the difficulties of the industry to gain potential members “even with greater access.” He said the 1.4% membership jump was the lowest “in the last 15 years.” “Maybe the public is simply not aware of the value of the access or the access is in the wrong place,” he observed in a talk which was an update on industry trends. He also reiterated data on the still small share CUs hold in financial markets citing 3.9% of checking accounts, 6.3% of deposits, 1.8% of first mortgages, and .01% of U.S.small business loans. Despite this scenario, Dollar gave an upbeat assessment of the industry’s new Washington clout citing his own appearance a year ago before his departure from the agency when he testified with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other economic brass to discuss the condition of “banking and financial markets.” To even be invited to the table was a recognition of the movement’s new stature, he said adding, “we have come of age.” On membership, he said there remains big hurdles to clear for credit unions considering that 40% of the U.S. population of 296 million are already CU members. There are 85.2 million CU members of which 72.4% are minors or have duplicate membership. He also discussed the problem of diminishing numbers of small credit unions, suggesting also the trend will soon encompass middle size and larger CUs as some CUs see economic advantages in consolidation. The former NCUA chairman also made brief reference to the ongoing conversion debate and said the trend remains for most CUs to keep their charter, but conditions would change quickly if the banking lobby is ever successful in Congress to lift the tax exemption. He told CU directors the “battle with bankers is a crucial one” that the industry “can and must win.” [email protected]

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