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I always get a little goofy at this time of year. It’s not because of the holidays, it’s because Credit Union Times just wrapped up its 51st and final issue of the year. This is the only week of the year we do not publish an issue. No issue, means no deadline. No deadline? For an editor that’s like taking the oxygen out of the air. There’s no planning, no rushing, no worrying, no pestering reporters, no managing the hordes of press releases and e-mails.it’s culture shock. But it does give me the time to thoroughly reflect on 2005. Many things went awry in 2005. I think the industry failed to meet some new challenges. But the flip side is the industry has learned a lot, and will be better served to meet next year’s challenges. Let’s take them one by one. * The Community CU Conversion Fiasco. We know now that NCUA did not cross all the i’s and dot the t’s in this conversion. The regulator tried to make the issue about what members saw first in the conversion packet, and that was turned on them by conversion proponents who painted NCUA as crying about the way a piece of paper was folded. The infamous “fold” won’t soon be forgotten. Of course it was about much more than a fold, but all the other details got lost in the shuffle. So the courts got involved and NCUA lost. They lost not only legally, but on the PR front. The agency looked bad. Its argument hinged on so-called agreements that it had made with Community about the disclosure document. The problem was nothing was in writing and it became a classic “he said, she said.” I can promise you this, the “I give you my word” regulatory approach to future conversions will not happen again, and NCUA will indeed document this in the future, and save itself and the industry the embarrassment of such a case. * The House, Ways and Means Tax Hearing. Talk about bad timing. This hearing was not what the industry needed this year, especially since there is a belief that bankers are getting more organized politically. But it came, and all the banker rhetoric came with it. Their message – expansive credit unions are taking our market share and they have the advantage of not paying taxes and not following CRA. Many believe credit unions didn’t do a great job making their case at this hearing, and I would agree. Many also believe this hearing cemented some future regulation that will force credit unions to document how they are serving those of modest means, again I would agree. But this hearing wasn’t all bad. For one, it was yet another event for the industry to rally around. Many credit unions probably aren’t even aware of the grassroots lobbying that led up to this hearing. It was extensive. What we learned was also positive. We now know Congress will no longer take credit unions’ word for it, they want credit unions to document their efforts in serving the underserved. Good. It forces the industry to create a ready-made, “documented” defense to future banker attacks. Put it in writing and show the world what you’re doing. Credit unions are doing great things all over the country, and those that have been slow to cater to the underserved will be forced to get on the ball. * Not the Same Old Bankers. Let’s face it, the bankers are tired of getting their political butts kicked by credit unions, and in 2005 they finally joined forces to deliver a common message to Congress. I believe that message resonated, and they increased their political power. There’s no question about it, the bankers have never been so organized. This is obviously bad news for credit unions, but also very good news. Credit unions that thought they could rest on their laurels, know now they have to be as politically-savvy as ever. I also think it fired up people like CUNA CEO Dan Mica. I’m often asked when I think Mica will step down. My answer is about two years ago. How wrong I’ve been. I think Mica wants to stay in the fight with the bankers, especially since they are now a more worthy opponent. Mica has his challenges with some losses of lobbying execs, another thing that will motivate him. Same goes for Fred Becker. He too has seen some key staff departures, and will be fired up to make NAFCU stronger to face the bankers. * Horrendous Hurricanes. No one could have anticipated the destruction of this year’s hurricanes, and their impact is beyond words, so I won’t even try. The good news is credit unions showed what they’re all about, “people helping people.” I know that phrase can seem corny at times, but this year credit unions lived that phrase to the fullest. They put plans into action. They identified needs. They came together in an extraordinary effort to help each other and help their members. Another positive – shared branching certainly showed its worth and will grow nicely. * Declining Credit Unions. The industry started the year with hundreds more credit unions than it ended with. Credit unions are disappearing all over the place. What could be good about that? Most of them are merging with larger, stronger credit unions – credit unions that can offer members more products and services. We don’t need 20,000 credit unions to be a solid industry. We need strong, innovative credit unions that are meeting members’ needs. If they’re not meeting members’ needs, merging is not a negative, it’s a positive. * Billion Dollar CUs Convert. 2005 saw the two largest credit union-to-bank conversions ever. Not good news. One thing that I personally am very happy about is this sure got the industry’s attention. I can remember some five years ago covering a Wisconsin CU’s conversion attempt, trying get the trade associations to acknowledge that this could be a growing threat. I was told time and time again so few CUs have made the switch, we’re not worried. Are you worried now? So the good news is CUNA, NAFCU, and credit union leagues are certainly aware of the threat and many have enacted policy stances on conversions. I don’t think it’s going to be uncommon going forward for leagues to oppose conversions. Many still think that’s not their role, they should support credit unions’ choice. No one is saying take away the choice, but if a league believes a particular CU’s conversion attempt is bad for members, it may say so after this year’s events. * Credit Union Times is Sold. This year saw the sale of Credit Union Times to Wicks Business Information, LLC. The bad news? It means founder and longtime publisher Mike Welch is no longer running this great publication, something he did so well for so many years. Welch will be missed by all of us here and many in the industry for his career achievements with credit unions. But the good news is Welch is still very much in tune with this publication and believes as much as I that Wicks is the company to take us to the next level. Wicks has the resources and is committed to investing in Credit Union Times. Readers can expect a lot of enhancements in 2006. -Comments? e-mail to [email protected]

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