I enjoyed reading the letter from Robert J Larison, who was the CEO of Atlantic Coast FCU and then converted to a mutual savings bank [Nov. 9 issue, page 10]. His letter reminds me of Flip Wilson's character Geraldine, who always said, “The devil made me do it.” While I applaud Larison for recognizing that every institution has the right to determine its own destiny, I question many of the premises for why his credit union changed its customer service after the charter conversion and failed to align with his customer's goals.
His credit union had merged many other failed credit unions, and therefore had problems in getting a field of membership approved by the NCUA that would allow his credit union to serve all of the members from the mergers. I can identify with that problem. My credit union changed from a federal charter to a state charter for that same reason.
Larison said that a charter is nothing more than a license to operate but then goes on to ask, “Or was it more than that?" The rest of his letter explains why he now doubts that a charter is just a license to operate. I say he is wrong. It is just a license to operate. How a credit union or a mutual savings bank or a stockholder-owned bank operates is determined by management and the board. Larison said that banks are not inherently bad. He then goes on to say, "However, there is something inherently good in credit unions." The implication of those two thoughts and the points he makes throughout his letter imply that the change from a for-profit to a nonprofit changes the motives of management. The implication is that for-profit businesses are conflicted. They have two masters and they give priority to pleasing the stockholder at the expense of the customer. How can that be true?
Bank of America proves that you can't mistreat the customer without harming the stockholder. Bank of America's huge misjudgment on debit card fees has driven the share price down and cost the shareholders millions of dollars.
Larison said it was his intent to run the bank like a credit union. He defines that as treating everyone like family members. The bank hired sophisticated employees who were good and smart people. Yet these employees did not understand that regardless of the customer's financial situation that they should treat customers with regard. I find it hard to understand why for the 11 years he served in the bank as its chief operation officer he would hire and retain employees with such bad customer service skills. Maybe the devil made it do it. Or maybe it’s the evil influence of the charter. Maybe a charter isn't just a license to operate. Maybe it’s a license to excuse bad management.
SAFE Credit Union
North Highlands, Calif.