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I couldn’t agree more with Sarah Snell Cooke’s Nov. 4 column (“Celebrating 100 Years of Anonymity”). Credit union founders such as Germany’s Friedrich Raiffeisen or Canada’s Alphonse Desjardins or even the USA’s Edward Filene would all probably be disappointed in how small a portion of our economy credit unions play today. It is such a shame we have all but forgotten the cooperative spirit of working together and educating our members. Credit unions are needed more than ever. People are not happy with banks and their take-advantage-of-the-sucker consumer approach to profit. Which organizations are filling the void? Unfortunately, it is the so-called predatory creditors such as payday lenders and the such. They are proliferating. On the other hand, credit unions’ numbers are shrinking, and some of the biggest are converting to other types of institutions. I have worked with credit unions overseas (with the WOCCU) and in Puerto Rico (with the WOCCU and as an examiner with the NCUA). In many places you don’t have to explain what a credit union is. It is part of the culture. However, all too often you do have to explain what one is, here in the mainland U.S. In my work at the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, we have never seen so much interest in the starting of new credit unions, especially community development credit unions. However, the NCUA and the state regulatory authorities seem to, at times, see their roles more as screeners of, rather than facilitators for, the establishing of new credit unions. This wasn’t always so. When I was an examiner, I was encouraged to assist in organizing new credit unions. Indeed, I helped organize five in one year, even while carrying out my examiner role in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Even today, there are some at the NCUA and the state regulatory authorities who have a very positive attitude about starting credit unions, and this needs to be encouraged. But it is not the regulators’ role to lead. What is really lacking and what is needed is real leadership ? la the grand founders mentioned above or people such as the late Louise Herring, the “Mother of Credit Unions,” from Ohio.

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Peter Westerman

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