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WASHINGTON-Service to members of modest means is recent and not the only job of credit unions. In remarks to CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson told participants that the term `modest means’ only came about with the 1998 passage of the Credit Union Membership Access Act. She added, “Service to those of modest means is not your entire mission, and I don’t believe that many serious people in Washington believe so either.” Still, “credit union friends and foes alike” would like to see quantifiable data on what credit unions do, Johnson said. She acknowledged that credit unions “faced some pretty tough questions” during the November hearing on the tax-exemption. “Chairman Thomas used HMDA data to paint an unflattering picture, compared to banks, of credit union service to low-income people,” the chairman said. “I must admit he did an effective, if incomplete job, but he raised legitimate congressional issues which require our response.” Credit union fields of membership throw a wrench into any blanket data gathering equation and the limitations on who they can serve must all be put into perspective. Johnson continued, “HMDA data, by itself does not give a comprehensive portrayal of credit union services. Nor, frankly does any one measuring stick. That realization framed our thinking here at the agency as we began to formulate a response to the questions presented by Chairman Thomas and other members of the committee that, if left unanswered, would have a corrosive effect on the perception of credit unions and our tax-exemption.” She asserted, “I would like to make one thing very clear: This agency is not about to impose CRA on credit unions,” which garnered loud applause. “I will repeat: NCUA, under my leadership, is not about to embark on a path that would lead you to CRA. Credit unions simply don’t deserve that kind of burden which would inhibit, rather than enhance, your efforts in reaching out to Americans from all walks of life.” No saying about politics is truer than that about perception becoming reality, the former state legislator said. “The perception on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of the hearing is that credit unions have something to prove on the question of service to those Americans who sit on the lower rungs of society’s economic ladder,” she said. “Don’t kid yourselves. The fact that these seeds have been planted by the banks makes no difference now.” Johnson challenged credit unions, “Rather than this data collection process being seen as a cause for concern, I encourage you to view it as an opportunity to continue that culture of service. You have a good story to tell, and in today’s environment you should back up your good story with data.” Another area where more disclosure is needed is in credit union conversions to mutual savings banks, Johnson pointed out. She said that credit union members have the right to vote for what is best for the credit union so long as it is an informed vote. “But I will not sit back and allow any conversion to occur when members aren’t given the opportunity to be accurately and fully informed about that on which they are voting.” she stated. “I am committed that NCUA shed as much light as possible on this process.” -

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