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SAN ANTONIO – Nearly 200 attendees descended upon the city’s Riverwalk area for the American Credit Union Mortgage Association’s 2006 Annual Conference March 26-28. ACUMA brings together the shared real estate lending and financing interests of credit unions and credit union service organizations. Member organizations include federal and state chartered credit unions and CUSOs, mortgage insurance companies, secondary market investors and investment banking firms, and technology companies operating in the field of mortgage banking. Key topics of discussion during the three-day event were: elevating awareness of and sophistication (as perceived by builders, realtors and the public) of credit union mortgage lending programs, serving people of “reasonable means” through affordable housing programs, analyzing what the competition is doing and eliminating mortgage fraud. With only 2% share of the mortgage lending market, credit unions looked at some of their competitors’ television ads and bantered about the feasibility of a national ad campaign with the visibility of a Got Milk? or AFLAC duck, and about the prospect of gaining support from credit union national trade associations. Lenders also acknowledged the need to step up communications and alliance building with realtors and homebuilders. ACUMA leadership said it has plans to exhibit at some of those industries’ larger conferences this year. Attendees expressed the desire to move the perception of real estate lending within credit unions from a secondary level product to a primary level product on the same level with checking accounts (further enhancing the prospects of credit unions becoming primary financial institutions). Ed Barlow, futurist, explored eight areas of structural change in today’s fast-paced world that will affect the way people live and work. Each area – change continuum, economic, global, environment, science and technology, demographic, organization and human resources – represents danger or opportunity in real estate lending, depending on how credit unions respond to it, Barlow said. Who is monitoring new dynamics affecting your business? Barlow recommended that credit unions build in capacity to monitor the changing world on a quarterly basis and update processes every 36 months. Among the items Barlow strongly stressed that credit unions look at are building the multi-literacy of staff, particularly conversational Spanish. “If you have staff not willing to learn basic conversational Spanish in the next five years, fire them,” Barlow said. Secondarily, he urged credit unions to take steps to train or hire someone in the next five years who speaks Mandarin Chinese. Barlow also highlighted the graying of America (and the aging of credit union members). Danger looms in the threat of a pending borrower shortage, he said. The average age of credit union members today is 47. More than half (54%) of all members fall outside the 25-44 age category generally considered to be the prime borrowing years, and members age 18-24 approaching their prime borrowing years represent just 5% of the total adult credit union membership. Credit union lenders can find opportunity in meeting baby boomers’ existential needs, Barlow said, such as financing the retrofitting of homes for aging members’ added safety and comfort. Boomers will wield $2 trillion in buying power by 2007, and many have large home equities. Credit unions located in prime retiree relocation states (Florida, Arizona, California, Texas and North Carolina) should consider ways to attract older borrowers, such as offering retirement planning seminars sponsored by the real estate lending department. Joe Brancucci, vice president of product and delivery channel development at BECU, and president of Prime Alliance Solutions in Washington, talked about credit unions preserving their tax-exempt status by maintaining the philosophy and the principles on which they were founded. Are credit unions attracting new members? Brancucci believes it’s hard for credit unions to compete on rates in the mortgage markets, but they can compete by providing affordable housing programs, places that begin the process of wealth building for low-income individuals. Brancucci shared successful results of a dilapidated trailer park that BECU helped transform into a 62-home Thomas Place low-income (but not distressed) housing community. The ACUMA conference staged roundtables to discuss such issues as HELOC payoffs, emerging markets, and marketing of mortgage loans. Each group provided solutions summaries that will post on ACUMA’s Web site. Regional Credit Union Real Estate Network groups provided updates on their contributions to increasing mortgage lending in their respective geographic areas. More than a dozen CURENs currently exist across the United States. And finally, participants asked for and received lots of networking time with industry peers and vendors, including a Western-themed reception at the Lone Star Palace Suite overlooking the famed Alamo. -

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