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COLUMBUS, Ind. – The $550 million Centra Credit Union has become the latest to join the growing list of “Wal-Mart” CUs by making plans to open three new southern Indiana branches in high-traffic stores starting next month. Centra management said it is undaunted by the swirling national controversy over what might be the retailer’s intentions to enter banking in the future via a Utah industrial loan bank. “We’ve been reading about what could happen, but we’re working from three five-year leases,” explained James Mills, president of the CU’s Southern Indiana market Centra has been talking to Wal-Mart for two years on in-store facilities, but things came together last year for the Columbus CU winning the nod to open two branches at new Wal-Marts in Clarksville and Scottsburg next month plus a third in Zionsville in 2007. Both the four-teller Clarksville facility set to open May 15 and the three-teller Scottsburg branch opening May 30 have less than 700 square feet, but retaining a Wal-Mart presence brings valued exposure and the rich potential for attracting new members, said Mills. “We’ve been told that a typical Wal-Mart store gets 200,000 shoppers a month,” said Mills. Like other CUs in Wal-Marts, Mills said there’s no way to predict what might happen to the branches should the retail behemoth decide to take over the branches and offer banking services on its own, a claim it has repeatedly denied in pleadings. That fear has triggered an outpouring of fierce opposition mainly from small banks and urban groups, many with a beef against Wal-Mart leading to the unprecedented Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. deposit insurance hearings earlier this month in Arlington, Va. A second round of FDIC hearings is set for this Tuesday in Overland Park, Kansas, but there were hints regulators might finally give conditional approval to the Utah application with a provision that it not engage in retail transactions but stick to card processing. “Look, one day we read one side that Wal-Mart will move into retail banking and the next day they won’t, so who really knows?” asked Mills. “It’s all up in the air and who can say what might happen in five years or 15 years.” Mills said Centra is indeed fortunate in winning the Wal-Mart contract over other financial institutions that might have bid for them. Working now with Financial Supermarkets Inc. a Cornelia, Ga. vendor, Mills said he was able to help seal the deal with Wal-Mart relying on his own experience in grocery store branches at Three Rivers FCU in Fort Wayne. He retired from the Fort Wayne CU last year to join Centra in July. Meanwhile, the Kansas Credit Union Association said one of its staffers and a former regulator, Jerel Wright, assistant vice president of governmental and public affairs, would be at the Overland Park hearings serving as a CU observer. “We will be listening to what is said and the criticism leveled by those banker groups when they are faced with competition from outside the banking system” as in the case of Wal-Mart, said Wright. In a separate development, the chairman of the American Bankers Association, Harris Simmons, who also is CEO of Zions Bancorporation, is predicting the Wal-Mart application will win eventual regulatory approval because legal barriers are weak. In a Sunday feature article in the Salt Lake Tribune discussing the good economic fortune enjoyed by the state because of the ILC industry, Simmons said he has mixed feelings about the mixing of commerce and banking, but the retailer is likely “to get all the necessary approvals to get into banking anyway” and there’s not much legal standing to block the firm. [email protected]

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