I don't want to seem like I am trying to boost the attendance numbers for this year's CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference, but if there was ever a year when attendance should be through the roof it is 2006. Credit unions send your boards, send senior staff, get up to Capitol Hill and be seen. Credit unions need to show their numbers now more than ever. I say this of course because we have all seen the banker attacks intensify. I took a tour of banker association Web sites recently and the anti-credit union propaganda is astounding. Some are so focused on credit unions you wonder if they have anything else to worry about. These sites should be required reading for credit union leaders, especially those who may doubt the ferocity of banker attacks. Here are some examples: * The ABA's Operation Credit Union is a very organized, well thought-out effort to get bankers involved in grassroots lobbying against credit unions. It is packaged on the ABA's site (www.aba.com) and contains just about everything a banker would need to get politically active, including links to letters to Congress opposing CURIA. All the banker has to do is fill out some basic questions and the letter is fired off to Congress. It has stats about credit union growth, examples of what it sees as egregious credit union expansion. It has an employee kit and a banker kit to outline how banks can get their employees involved and how banks themselves can get involved. There are logos, letters, fliers, you name it. The full 2004 GAO report on credit unions is there, along with ABA-written credit union pieces like the "The Morphing of Credit Unions". Among other things, the report attacks VyStar Credit Union, showing it has more deposits than any other institution in its market, including mega banks Bank of America and Wachovia. The bankers as we know don't accept that a credit union could do a better job serving a market than they can. Maybe those banks should follow VyStar's lead, rather than continue to waste effort on repealing the tax-exemption. Something tells me even if VyStar started paying taxes tomorrow it would continue to beat the bankers in its market. Back to the site, I hate to say it but the ABA has its online act together when it comes to attacking credit unions. Surf on over to the America's Community Bankers' Web site (www.acbankers.org) and the credit union rhetoric is just as intense. It is packaged nicely under "Mission Impossible: Uncovering the Truth About Credit Unions." I'm glad they think getting credit unions taxed is mission impossible, but here again is a site that makes it very, very easy for any banker to have their voice heard on Capitol Hill with links, letters, and all sorts of materials ready to go. The ACB also has a canned letter to Congress asking lawmakers to support credit unions' right to convert to banks. I wonder if the ACB is one of those mysterious backers of the Coalition for Credit Union Charter Options? Talk about a no-brainer. Hopefully lawmakers are smart enough to see ACB's vested interest in standing up for credit unions' right to convert. It can be a boon to their membership numbers and to their bottomline. Last but certainly not least is the Independent Community Bankers of America's Web site (www.icba.com). The ICBA has an "Enough is Enough" theme to their CU attacks and states that stopping unfair competition from credit unions is a top ICBA priority. At its site, visitors can download the complete Tax Foundation study on the tax-exemption. Again the site makes it easy for bankers to e-mail lawmakers about credit unions. The ICBA does seem to have another prominent issue going right now, and that is stopping Wal-Mart from getting into banking. Ironically, credit unions continue to expand their presence in Wal-Mart stores (see related story on page 3). As I surfed through all these sites I couldn't help notice a consistent theme about credit union asset growth and individual CU growth. The message is clear the big credit unions are getting bigger. The industry's assets are surging. The bankers have told Congress this over and over. But where have the bankers been? Consolidation is happening in every industry and as time goes on the big players get bigger. Banks know this. Big banks are getting bigger. Back in 1980 there were 14,434 commercial banks. In 1990 it was down to 12,347, and as of end of 2004 it was 7,630. So are they consolidating and getting smaller? Absolutely not, their assets continue to grow and they break profit record every year, largely on the backs of consumers. Fee income has swelled from $3 billion in 1980 to $11 billion in 1990 and $31 billion in 2004. Banks are doing great, in fact many are doing too good, to the detriment of consumers. Could you imagine a world where there was no alternative to fee-gouging banks? Credit unions have done great politically against banks and must continue to do so, but they also can't forget the other battles. Banks win every time a credit union converts to a bank, they win every time a credit union sells their credit card portfolio to a bank. As one credit union CEO said to me recently, "we kill them politically, but they've found other ways to hurt us." I say credit unions need to keep killing them politically, but keep their eyes on their other attacks. -Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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