I wish I could report that the credit union-to-bank charter conversion issue is going to fade away, but that’s not the case. Quite the contrary, it is poised to heat up again as still more credit unions look to make the switch. The industry needs to ready its defenses. I’ve read NAFCU’s recommendations and CUNA’s policy stance. They both include good recommendations, though some unrealistic. There’s no way, as NAFCU suggests, that a rule or law prohibiting a credit union’s leadership from profiting any sooner than 10 years after the conversion will ever get passed. It would be great, but not going to happen. I like what some of the leagues are doing. The North Carolina CU League recently came out and said that it would get directly involved should any credit union in its state choose to convert. It will take the role of educator. As League president John Radebaugh put it, “For any conversion vote to be fair, the principle of `one member, one vote’ has to be based on full disclosure and accurate information. The League will be a source of accurate information to uphold the democratic process.” The Nevada CU League also came out with a position statement opposing conversions outright. It’s not blurring the issue by saying credit unions should have the right to convert, it states that it sees no benefit for consumers. “For obvious reasons, banker organizations are pressing their agenda to have more credit unions convert over time to bank charters,” said Nevada League Chairman Bruce Rodela. How right you are Bruce. Not to be cocky, but I believe if put in charge I could thwart just about any CU conversion attempt in the nation, and I would do it with PR. PR leaders in credit union land need to arm themselves now to fight this fight in public where it needs to be. Use the local press in the area of the conversion to educate people on what’s happening. Make it an “ownership” issue. Members may not care enough to read everything in a complicated disclosure document, but if they know something is being taken away from them, they’ll wake up. Ownership must be a key theme. Here are the steps PR leaders need to take now to be ready when a conversion attempt comes down: * Compile a packet of information on conversions for the media. It should show what members lose by converting – voting rights, rate advantages, etc. A nice two-column chart showing what rights and privileges CU members enjoy, compared to what bank customers get would hit the mark with reporters. Explain how board members go from being unpaid, to being able to profit handsomely and receive regular compensation thereafter. This packet should include a list of all the CUs that have converted, and show which ones (two-thirds with more trying) that have taken the next step of stock ownership. Don’t just tell the media the next step could be stock ownership where the board and management can profit, show them how it’s happened in the past. Use data from the Securities and Exchange Commission to document the kinds of profits insiders made from past conversions. Reporters like facts – give them the numbers and go light on the rhetoric. Sourced statistics are also easily quoted and have a good chance of winding up in stories. * Make leaders available. Have the league CEO, yes the CEO, call reporters and talk about the issue. Reporters love to hear from the top. CEOs should be prepped and willing to talk. Forget about `no comment’ and `we’ll get back to you’, they should be ready and passionate about the issue. * Have a Web site waiting in the wings that includes all the same information the media packet does. Tell reporters about the site. Some credit union groups have done this in past conversion attempts, however I thought some were very limited. The site should not only be chock full of information but have an online forum where members can talk back and forth about the issue. Get a buzz going. * Take out ads. It would be great to let the reporters do all the work, but to keep a consistent message, prepare ads that inform members of what’s happening. Run these ads in key publications, and use them to announce further weapons in your arsenal, whether it be a Web site or meeting on the conversion. * Set up public meetings where members are invited to hear from CU leaders on the conversion. Bring in the big guns. Have national trade association leaders attend. Economists from CUNA and NAFCU would be great to have on hand to answer financial questions. Invite the leaders of the converting CU. They’ll never come, but invite them. * Respond to your adversary point for point, but don’t get wild about it. Avoid extremist language like that used by Marv Umholtz recently. Umholtz is a former CU leader who is now tied to the Coalition for CU Charter Options, a group that advocates charter conversion, despite its claim to be about charter options. Umholtz said the following in a recent letter to NCUA about bylaw changes that may affect charter conversions: “Every disgruntled FCU member, crackpot, leftist or right wing political extremist or antagonistic agitator will be empowered to waste the FCU’s other members’ time and resources, discouraging future attendance. Control of the membership meeting agenda, procedures and timetable should be only subject to the board of director’s good judgment as duly elected representatives of the membership.” Crackpots? Extremists? Antagonist agitators? Whoa Marv you sound like the crackpot. Don’t fall into this trap folks, this language is hard to take seriously. -Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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