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For years bankers have been portraying credit unions as barely competent to provide financial services. “Those credit unions are able to serve the poor and humbled masses with savings accounts and small loans, but they are a bit out of their league when it comes to business loans. Let those credit unions play in the sandbox while the grown-ups provide sophisticated financial services,” they contend. The image they portray of credit unions as lovable but bumbling folks makes us sound a bit like Forrest Gump.I am sure that the other shrimp boat captains had a similar condescending attitude toward Forrest when he bought his shrimp boat. Then there was the storm and only Forrest and Lieutenant Dan were out on the water when the storm hit. The result of the storm was that all the shrimp boats in port were destroyed and Forrest ended up with the only shrimp boat left on that area of the Gulf Coast. Forrest had a virtual monopoly, and he and Lieutenant Dan grabbed a huge market share, growing Bubba Gump Shrimp into a multi-million dollar business.The storm of this economic crisis has hit us. While all financial institutions will suffer, credit unions are in much better capital positions and better able to meet the needs of their members than the banks that are still afloat. Former customers of Wachovia and Washington Mutual are running out of those failed institutions and joining credit unions. This is not the time to hunker down. If credit unions have the will to step up and meet the financial needs of their members, we can grow market share.We can also confirm the value of the independent cooperative model. The financial industry is in for extensive regulatory revisions. We do not want the independence of credit unions lost in that process. We have to convince Congress that a strong nonprofit cooperative alternative to banks is an invaluable asset in tough economic times. What we do today matters.

Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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