Dollar Expects To Stay Beyond Term, Sees Work To Do

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His six-year term on the NCUA Board officially expires in April, but don't look for Chairman Dennis Dollar to be going anywhere soon.

The 49-year-old Dollar was appointed by President Bush to head the federal regulatory panel two years ago this month and he still has a few things to finish on his plate before he leaves the table.

"My term runs through April and I'm going to serve through April," Dollar said during an interview in his office last week, insisting he is not exploring any job offers until his term officially expires.

In fact, he conceded, the odds are that he will continue to serve as the President's man heading NCUA for some time after that while awaiting nomination and confirmation of a successor, as is typical of NCUA board members.

Though his post-NCUA future is still to be determined, one thing he recently ruled out is returning to his native Mississippi and to electoral politics. The former state representative and erstwhile congressional candidate said he was sounded out recently about the possibility of running for the Senate in the unlikely scenario that Trent Lott resigned his seat when he agreed to step down as Majority Leader. Though Dollar still has the political bug-he ran for public office four times-he conceded his campaign days are probably over.

"I would say it is very unlikely I will return back to Mississippi and run for office. I don't see that as an option," he stated.

What he does want to do is complete some of the initiatives he has introduced at NCUA. The first is the latest rewrite of the agency's field of membership (FOM) manual, currently out for public comment. The rewrite is the second during Dollar's tenure, following the agency's interpretation of HR 1151, the CU Membership Access Act, and would significantly broaden federal credit unions' markets by allowing industry- or profession-wide FOMs (called TIPs-for trade, industry or profession); expanding community charter authority; and extinguishing the traditional FOM overlap protection afforded through exclusionary clauses.

"I want to see greater diversification options for credit unions," said Dollar, who endorses ever-broader membership powers for federal charters, but stops just short of the open FOMs favored by many in the credit union movement. That issue, he insists, is up to Congress and one on which they have spoken before, most recently in 1998.

Dollar also hopes the agency can finalize new investment rules for natural person credit unions which will expand the instruments that federal charters may invest in. The two major aspects he hopes will survive in the final rule is the introduction of his regulatory flexibility, Reg-Flex for short, concept, which will allow the healthiest CUs to embark on pilot programs for new investment strategies. And Dollar hopes the pilot program, which has been mostly neglected since its introduction three years ago, can be broadened.

"We're going to try hard to promote the pilot program aspect of that reg. We want to market it; streamline the process, and extend it to others," he said of the program that has had just three participants since its introduction.

The ability of credit unions to offer greater varieties of products and services through investing and other activities is every bit as important as the burning concerns over expanded markets, through FOM, Dollar is convinced.

Finally, Dollar hopes the NCUA Board can finalize a new rule permitting wider overseas branching powers before his term expires. The rule would provide federal credit unions with greater ability to serve sponsor groups in foreign countries, some of whom are being served in a patchwork manner now, through CUSOs or other service models. Of course, he noted, defense credit unions have been operating successfully overseas for years and serve as a proper model for what other credit unions might do.

Despite the great strides federal charters have made broadening FOM powers in recent years, FOM is still one of the main issues Dollar hears about on his many road trips. As a result, the question of federal charter versus state charter is still being debated loudly.

"I think the viability of the federal charter remains an issue because the dual-chartering system remains alive and well," he said.

But the way to make the federal charter more attractive, he insists, is not to limit what state charters may do, as some lawmakers would have it, but to continue to help federal credit unions evolve to compete in the modern marketplace.

"The answer is not to stop state charters from exercising greater powers," he said. "I think the answer is to allow federal charters to compete without having to change charters."

Whatever Dollar's post-NCUA prospects are, he foresees a great future for credit unions. "The next 20 years are going to be very exciting for credit unions," he insisted. And it's a good bet his future will include credit unions in some way.

"I came from the credit union field; I certainly would like to return in some capacity," said the former president and CEO of Gulfport (Miss.) VA FCU.

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