Back To The Future (Forum) Notes

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Looking back at the Future (Forum):

Emerging Pink Flags

* CUNA President Dan Mica ran through his standard litany of credit union successes (growth to $618 billion in assets, industry capital at 10.6%, etc.), but in his brief remarks departed from the optimism to point to if not red, then emerging pink flags. "We can't say we've been good in the past. We need to be good in the future," observed Mica. "One of the things we have to do is maintain our service commitment. The second thing we must do is be united, and the third thing is to be true to credit union principles."

Instead of similarly praising credit union performance, Mica expressed concerns over two issues. First, Mica suggested credit unions too often point to their performance vs. banks in the annual American Banker surveys without noticing that banks have been closing the service perception gap over the past two years. "It's not time to panic, but we need to go back and ramp up service," Mica said. He also expressed concern that there are splits within credit unions driven by asset size that he said bank trade groups are seizing upon within a divide and conquer strategy. He further predicted the banks will double their attacks at the state level in the coming year, saying CUNA expects to see problems in at least 10 states.

As for the expansion by credit unions into member business lending, Mica said he has heard from some veteran credit unionists of the days in the early 1980s when some people fought the addition of share drafts, arguing it was almost "heresy" to offer checking accounts. "It's your patriotic duty to make member business loans," he said. "They create jobs and they help the country's economy."

Mica closed by reiterating CUNA's emphasis on service to the Hispanic market, saying that 80% of Hispanics report needing financial information. "There are huge numbers out there who want our help."

A Funny Guy

* Perhaps the hit of the Future Forum was the emcee hired to pull the show together, comedian-ventriloquist-musician Taylor Mason. At several points a video was shown of Mason doing "man in the street"-type interviews with attendees. During one he stopped next to poster-size playing cards that were being used for promotional purposes to say CUNA had created the cards for older board members who can no longer see well.

A Lot Of Applause For The Dead Guy

* The Future Forum presented another credit union first. The meeting may have been the first time a standing ovation was given to a dead congressman from Nebraska. Current Nebraska state Sen. David Landis performed a one-man show as Sen. George Norris, who signed the Federal Credit Union Act in 1934. Landis (as Norris) spoke with great eloquence about the early days of credit unions.

"I've never met you, but I know the work you do," said Landis-Norris. "You are the people who have put children through college. You are the people who have found workers and moved them from being tenants to being homeowners. You've helped small businesses to begin because a worker decided to go out on his own...And I've come here with one message. It's a message that's been told to you through Thomas Doig or Dora Maxwell or Angela Melville on horseback or Claude Orchard in that meatpacking plant in Omaha, or Roy Bergengren in the gallery of the House of Representatives or Edward Filene. The message will always be the same."

The Mortgage Is Paid, But...

* Mica noted that Credit Union House, for which not a penny had been raised two years ago, is "fully paid for," but then added, "we could use a little extra help with the annual operating expenses." He also revealed it cost nearly $700,000 to fight the lawsuit filed by a bank over the "Where people are worth more than money" slogan, on which the bank said it held the trademark. CUNA prevailed in the lawsuit.

See You In Hawaii

* CUNA will hold the 2004 Future Forum Oct. 24-28 in Honolulu.

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