SAN FRANCISCO – Whether at the lectern, at the receptions or in private meetings, CUNA's top leadership began preparing the nation's credit unions last week for what many fear is a daunting year in confronting banker attacks. Though hurricanes, shrinking margins, conversions and CURIA were also "top of mind" among the 1,500 CU executives and their guests who convened here, the banker attacks emerged as a matter of paramount concern following a new blast from the incoming chairman of the American Bankers Association, Harris Simmons of Utah. The outgoing CUNA chairman, Richard Ensweiler of Texas was first up on the Future Forum podium to sound the alarm describing the Zions Bancorp CEO, a CU nemesis who has long made CU demise a pet project. Ensweiler described him as the "most rabid anti-credit unionist" in the U.S. Ensweiler, who returns to his job as president/CEO of the Texas Credit Union League, was followed at the microphone by CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica who warned his CU audience that "nobody in America is more committed to changing the way credit unions operate." True to form. Simmons, who coincidentally was formally elevated to ABA chairman in Palm Desert, Calif. on the same day as the CUNA Future Forum adjourned, reportedly issued a new anti-CU blast during the ABA meeting. In a follow-up to Mica's warning, the new chairman of CUNA, Juri Valdov of Virginia and an ex-Marine, suggested in his debut talk that he was fully up to the task of confronting Simmons and a bank onslaught in 2006. "I don't know the man though I suspect I'll meet him," quipped Valdov adding simply "but if he opposes credit unions, I'm against him." Later, Valdov, who also is president/CEO of Northwest FCU in Herndon, Va., told a reporter the Zions chairman has only one mission "to put us out of business" and on that he is prepared to muster the industry's full strength to meet that challenge. Ensweiler earlier had said Simmons' intent-"or way to make his mark"-is to completely subvert CUs and thus the Texan forecast that "as heavy as the attacks have been from bankers, they will only intensify now." And he continued, "as I take leave of this chairmanship, I urge you to be not just vigilant, but proactive in our efforts against external attacks." In reviewing outside influences, the Texas League CEO also touched on conversions and using California analogies suggested again that mutual bank switches represent "an insider's gold rush" engineered by "a team of lawyers and poorly designed `disclosures'" that confuse members about what is at stake in their institution. "None of us want to preclude a credit union from converting to a bank" if that is its choice but too often the members don't understand the impact of the switch "if their credit union becomes a bank." Ensweiler also acknowledged that he has "taken some heat" about his use of the term, "bank" in marketing lexicon and on that, he said, "I've communicated that it is difficult to explain our uniqueness and our differences if credit unions portray themselves as better or wiser or smarter" in the ways of banking. But he insisted the debate has been "healthy" stressing that "I'll tell you one place though where the term `bank' ought to be used-that's in the disclosure information to members in these conversion cases." The League CEO said he was "stunned and outraged that the term bank was downplayed in their disclosures in favor of the euphemism, `savings institution' since they are being willfully deceptive and misleading." On hurricane assistance to CUs employees and families as well as to Red Cross and outside agencies, all of the top CUNA brass – Mica, Ensweiler and Valdov – repeatedly thanked the CU community for its generosity described as consistently "overwhelming and heartwarming." The speakers singled out individual acts of caring with Valdov twice mentioning Guy Hood, president/CEO of the Florida League, for right after Katrina hit "getting in his own car driving from Tallahassee to Alabama and Mississippi" to help out CUs in those states. The exercise of giving "made us feel good about ourselves" as CU leaders, said Valdov. "We didn't need a FEMA for credit unions to tell us what to do," Valdov told the Future Forum audience adding CUs needed no management directive Mica also expressed gratitude for the overall CU response citing individual CUs, state Leagues, corporates, vendors and various other trade organizations offering everything from mobile branches to $200 packets of cash handed to members "off the back end of a pickup truck." And Valdov keying off that story recalled the husband of that Louisiana CU manager sitting by the truck holding on to a shotgun "as a security" precaution. "From Day One," continued Mica, "we were assessing who's been hit, who's hurt, who's missing, and what credit unions needed." "On Labor Day Weekend, when a lot of people couldn't find the foundations of their homes, you were calling us, saying, `We have phones,' `we have fuel,' `we have generators,' `we have mobile branches and cash,'" said Mica. The CUNA CEO then forecast that CUs would continue giving "once the cameras are turned off and the lights dim" because of their people serving people mission. Turning to CURIA, Mica once again pleaded for CU political action to sign up 100 sponsors. "We have 98 now and I want to hear by the end of this conference we have 100," he told delegates. There was no announcement on the final day, Sept. 27, if the goal had been reached. [email protected]

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