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Sometimes I worry that state leagues defer to CUNA too much on various issues. I am a fan of the current CUNA, which has truly become a world-class trade association, but CUNA doesn’t do everything well. They have had a number of failures on the product side, an area CUNA should stay an arm’s length from. CUNA also, even though it is integrated with the leagues on so many levels, doesn’t know individual state issues as well as the leagues. This is where leagues shine. They are on the ground in their states. They know the issues. They understand the culture of their credit unions. They should be credit unions’ first stop in any political or regulatory problem. So I clearly believe the role of leagues should increase, not decrease going forward. I want to comment on some very intriguing league news that has broken recently that might offer a look into the future of leagues. The Colorado CU Association has updated its bylaws to allow out-of-state member credit unions with branches in Colorado to have full voting powers. This isn’t going to impact hundreds of CUs, but it is a very innovative move that other leagues should follow. The credit union industry is consolidating at all levels. More and more mergers will affect multiple-states. Credit unions that have more than a token presence in multiple states, and this means a branch presence, should have a voice in both leagues. What’s the downside? I can’t see any. Smaller CUs may be worried about large out-of-state CUs coming in and taking over, but that can all be handled with policies on board composition. So kudos to Colorado for blazing a trail on this issue. Others will soon follow suit, or be forced to by large CUs that suddenly have a presence in their state. This will also lead to league consolidation, which I think is inevitable in certain regions and makes a lot of sense. You can’t tell me Nevada CUs aren’t benefiting from the Nevada and California CU Leagues merging. Another hot league news story breaking last week is the merger of the Illinois CU Association with the Midwest Association of Credit Unions. This is also a positive development for the league system. Illinois CUs shouldn’t be expected to support two state-level trade associations. More than two-thirds of the state’s CUs are under $50 million in assets. This group can’t afford to pay dues twice, especially credit unions who may want to belong to both CUNA and NAFCU. The larger CUs in the state don’t need the political headaches of two state leagues. The leaders of MACU should be commended for recognizing the time has come to merge with ICUL. The number of Illinois CUs continues to shrink. There are now less than 500 in a state that had over 700 just 10 years ago. Again, as the industry consolidates, credit union leagues must wake up to the fact that bigger can be better. MACU and ICUL will obviously gain economies of scale that will allow them to cut costs and be more efficient for its members. The departure of MACU is probably music to CUNA’s ears. A number of regional groups have popped up over the years because they were unhappy with something in the CUNA/league world. The Missouri Credit Union Association also made headlines recently for its public awareness campaign. The league is working with a large public relations firm to try and spread the news about all the good Missouri credit unions do. Anyone who has read this column with any regularity knows I applaud efforts like this. Get out and toot the credit union horn – no one else will. Tell the story of credit unions helping people. The 48 credit unions that have signed on to participate understand how important the credit union image is, and want to help shape it. One particularly exciting nugget about this effort is they are assembling a group of credit union representatives who will act as liaisons to the media. Thus these are people that are comfortable in this role and will represent credit unions well. Hopefully they are from all regions of the state and come from all asset sizes. Every state should have this! There is a “but” coming however with the Missouri story. I hope they don’t make the mistake of spending too much time or money promoting the association itself. One of the stated goals is to strengthen the association’s brand. What for? This is no knock against that fine league, but who really cares if Missourians know who the league is, that should not be the message. I’d rather see them spend their efforts pushing some sort of branding effort for Missouri CUs in general. I hope I am wrong, but if they are pushing the association’s brand, I think they are only going to confuse people. You are asking the same people you are trying to introduce credit unions to, to first learn about the association that all the CUs belong to. I can hear Missourians now, “How can I join the association?” And finally there is Gary Wolter, a man who has managed to lead the Alabama CU League for 40 years. Wow, talk about dodging the many trappings of association politics. There’s politics and then there’s association politics, and association politics are the most treacherous. Wolter has somehow done it and kept the league strong on all levels. He deserves a hand. Bravo. Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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