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WASHINGTON — Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner never mentioned credit unions when he spelled out his plan for rescuing troubled financial institutions. For the credit union movement, this may not, however, be a case of absence making the heart grow fonder.As portions of the credit union industry suffer some of the largest losses in recent memory, the Treasury Department has not given clear signals as to what assistance, if any, it is offering. At the same time, the NCUA’s rescue plan for corporate credit unions is still being revised in light of widespread protests by CUNA, NAFCU and individual credit unions about levying a premium to pay for it.The Geithner proposal-which includes a public-private investment fund to buy bad assets, a consumer and business-lending initiative, and a revamping of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, now called the Financial Stability Plan-is just a rough outline so far.NCUA Chairman Michael E. Fryzel said the plan is “comprehensive, yet not specific in a lot of areas,” and he remains frustrated that his pleas to give credit unions access to TARP funds have so far fallen on deaf ears.CUNA Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel Mary Mitchell Dunn said that because Geithner didn’t mention credit unions, her organization would redouble efforts to persuade the Treasury Department to give credit unions the option of having access to TARP funds.But she said they would be especially careful so as not to “jeopardize the credit unions’ position before Congress” on the question of their tax-exempt status.NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker said Geithner’s broad outline raises more questions than it answers. “All we have is a concept,” he said. “All of the alternatives seem to have a set of problems attached to them and that’s why you saw the market react so strongly.”Although Geithner did not mention credit unions, during his testimony before the Banking Committee, he talked about regulatory restructuring and that one possibility is having one federal charter for all financial institutions.Dunn said she planned to express CUNA’s “strong objections” to that, which was also part of the Treasury Department’s Blueprint that was issued last April.As the Geithner plan unfolds, CUNA and NAFCU are also working to persuade the NCUA to modify its plan for corporates.NAFCU said it will offer several alternatives but at this point is focusing its efforts to give corporates access to the Central Liquidity Facility.The association wants Congress to amend the Federal Credit Union Act so that the phrase “liquidity needs” refers to more than just natural person credit unions. It also wants to change the definition of “capital needs” to mean “cash available to meet the needs of credit unions, increase reserves or to meet other needs of credit unions as determined by the NCUA Board.”Fryzel said NAFCU’s plan “has merit. If they can get consensus with CUNA and go to Capitol Hill to try to persuade lawmakers, we’ll be right behind them.”He added that his agency will consider any proposal that is “responsible, realistic and legal.”Dunn said they see the CLF proposal as one of many alternatives that should be presented. Other ideas that they are discussing include: have natural person credit unions inject additional funds into corporates either by member capital or paid-in capital; have natural person credit unions provide loans to corporates by subordinated notes; or have natural person credit unions make term deposits in corporates.CUNA’s task force on corporate credit unions is working on formulating suggestions to the NCUA, and NAFCU has set up a similar group.Bert Ely, a financial services consultant and analyst, said solving the problems of the corporate and natural person credit unions could mean a reshaping of the industry.“For the corporates, you have the issue of problems caused by fair-value accounting and their drain on the share insurance fund. No one knows how that will be resolved and the impact will be huge,” he said. “For the natural person credit unions with capital problems, more of them could try to convert to stockholder-owned so they can raise money. It’s a similar situation to what some savings and loans faced in the 1980s, and the result may be a credit union industry that looks very different than it does now.”–[email protected]

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