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MADISON, Wis. – Last year’s membership gains may be directly impacted if any large credit unions convert to savings banks this year, according to the latest data from CUNA Mutual Group. In its March Credit Union Trends Report, CUNA Mutual noted that the loss of OmniAmerican and Community Credit Unions cost the system roughly 500,000 members in 2005. “The improvements from 2005 results assume no large CUs will convert to savings banks,” said CUNA Mutual Chief Economist Dave Colby. Indeed, as they did last year, credit unions will continue to see new members as a result of more expanded fields of membership. At the end of March, membership climbed to 87.9 million and through the first quarter of 2006, an estimated 900,000 members joined credit unions, according to the report. Colby cautioned that “membership is extremely difficult to estimate” and “short-term trends are not necessarily reliable.” CUNA Mutual is still expecting “weaker” new car sales, which may lead to a slowdown in indirect lending and membership. Meanwhile, there were an estimated 8,935 CUs at the end of March. Colby said 45% of year-to-date approved mergers were in hurricane-impacted regions, but the storms were not the driving force behind these mergers.

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