Concern For Illinois' Small CUs

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During the Illinois league's annual Legislative Day here members of the Governor's Board of Credit Union Advisors met with the league, along with the new acting director of the Department of Financial Institutions, Edgar Lopez.

According to the league, Edgar Lopez, recently appointed acting DFI director acknowledged the "very interesting time" for credit unions in the Illinois political landscape, noting the most critical event was the recent preservation of the DFI. The agency, Illinois credit unions and ICUL had a major presence in saving the agency from consolidation, which survived Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's April 1 executive orders (14 other state agencies were consolidated in that action). Now that critical time has passed, Lopez said he is interested in getting the board more opportunities to express their concerns and receiving advice from Illinois credit unions.

"I don't view the DFI as only a regulatory agency, but also to help your credit union and membership become as strong as possible," Lopez said. "My goal, after my tenure, is to be able to say the movement has grown."

After noting that Illinois has more natural-person credit unions (400) than any other state, Patrick Smith, acting supervisor of the DFI Credit Union Division, cautioned, "We are seeing a disturbing trend of mergers like there was in the early 1980s when credit unions were losing their single sponsors. But now the difference is that credit unions are being hit as hard in the technology corridors as they were in industrialized areas."

Smith said his department would provide "every possible means" to support small credit unions and laid out the DFI's strategy to provide management training programs to those credit unions considering the merger option. At present, he said there are 12 merger candidates. "We know the DFI won't completely stop mergers, nor will we play referee or umpire if a credit union's business plan is logical. But with an average of five-to-six mergers per month, we just can't look the other way anymore." Smith added the average was only about one merger per month in previous years.

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