Beating The Drum At Future Forum

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For some time CUNA has been banging the drum about all it does for its affiliated member credit unions. Last week, it did so literally.

Seeking to put some pep into a late-season conference that has suffered lagging attendance and was even canceled in the wake of 9-11 two years ago, the trade group unveiled an overhauled annual meeting called the "Future Forum" that lived up to its billing as being different from the standard credit union conference. That included a session at which participants banged on drums and blew whistles in the name of becoming more creative.

The meeting, which was formerly the CUNA Symposeum and prior to that the annual meeting, drew representatives from approximately 250 different credit unions for an agenda that was highly interactive. And behind the format changes were some common themes that are beginning to be voiced more often within the credit union community, and that is concerns that credit unions are becoming divided on some key issues, with the divisions running along asset size.

In his remarks on several occasions, CUNA CEO Dan Mica talked about the need for unity among credit unions and spoke directly to the issue of divisiveness. During a panel discussion Utah League CEO Scott Earl expressed similar sentiments about banker attacks in his state that have sought to have the largest credit unions taxed.

Similarly, another serious theme could be heard amidst the offbeat entertainment and very humorous emcee (Taylor Mason) who was brought in for the event, and that is concerns credit unions have cracks in their foundation.

Mica cautioned that while credit unions have been busy patting themselves on the back for outperforming banks in the annual surveys published by American Banker, many have overlooked the fact the banks have closed the service perception gap over the past two years.

In part, he said, that's because credit unions have not done a good job of explaining who they are. CUNA Vice Chairman Juri Valdov noted that his credit union, NWA Federal, did focus groups and discovered that not even his own employees understood the concept of credit union ownership. During the Future Forum, CUNA seated a panel of mostly college students from the Reno area, and few had any real understanding of how a credit union is structured or why it is different from a bank.

Credit unions had better get busy educating people on the differences, Mica said, because CUNA is anticipating that in the next round of state legislative sessions as many as 10 states may seriously entertain anti-credit union legislation.

That's double the five states where various tax initiatives or FOM limitations were considered in legislatures this year.

"CUNA will not discuss our tactics or strategies publicly, but we are prepared for these fights," said Mica. "All politics is local, and that's where we're going to fight these battles."

Added Rick Pillow, president of the Virginia-D.C. league, "We've told our legislators that the tax exemption is the one issue on which we just can't compromise."

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