Help For Those In The Middle

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While everyone else is trying to eliminate the middle man, the California Credit Union League is trying to help.

While resources are already in place to help small credit unions, and many large credit unions are reasonably self-sufficient, the league is continuing to develop resources aimed at mid-sized credit unions, especially a web-based source of information.

Since 1992 the California league has had its Shapiro Group program in place, which is aimed at the state's smallest credit unions.

In 2003, when a task force was formed to address the needs of medium-sized CUs, the Shapiro Group was defining "small" as $26.4 million or less in assets (the amount is determined by the median asset level of league member CUs, and is adjusted upward by about $1 million to $2 million each year).

Because many credit unions are too large to be included as part of the Shapiro Group, yet still have demands unique to their asset size, the CCUL formed a task force of nine credit union executives from credit unions of all sizes to define the needs of mid-sized credit unions, and find ways to meet those needs. Pat Solares, the California league's director of education and training, served as staff liaison to the Mid-Sized CU Task Force. The group worked from January through September 2003, under Chairman Debra Trapani of Sierra Point Credit Union.

According to Solares, the task force conducted a "fairly extensive" survey of mid-sized CUs, and commissioned a focus group.

"From all the data, the committee made recommendations," he said. "The major one was the creation of a (dedicated league) web page. The second recommendation was for the league to continue to grow its webcast series. Education is important, and we wanted more convenient types of education available. In addition, we wanted some educational programs designed for the specific needs of mid-sized credit unions."

Defining 'Medium'

What constitutes "mid-sized" is often up to the beholder. The Shapiro Group's asset size cap, which has since been raised to $33 million, became the low-end for defining "mid-sized." The top end for midsized CUs was set at $500 million.

"The committee broke mid-sized credit unions into two tiers," he explained. "The lower tier, from $26.4 million to $150 million in assets, is the group best served by the recommendations of the task force-such as the web page and webcasts. The upper tier is from $151 million to $500 million."

There are 245 CUs in the state that fall under that definition of mid-sized. Of those, 175 are in the lower tier, and 70 are in the upper tier, he reported. The California league does not have field representatives assigned to mid-sized CU outreach, Solares said. Instead, the primary focus is making sure those credit unions are aware of the web page and the resources it contains, and encouraging participation in the "Mid-Sized Credit Union ListServe," which allows CU representatives to e-mail questions and seek advice from peer group credit unions.

Web Page Building

Maryann Northup, the California league's director of research and information, led the team that created the Mid-Sized CU web page. The page first came online in May with three features: a "tools" page with links to information on compliance, grant writing, policies and procedures and other items, a "supplier search" page with vendors listed by product and company name, and the ListServe. Later in the year, a "shared resources" page was added.

According to Northup, the supplier search page is intended to be a quick, one-stop shopping area that lets CUs find vendors to meet their needs. The ListServe is designed to enhance communication between credit union executives, and allows them to share common experiences.

"The shared resources is a system where a member credit union can go in and check which credit unions have used certain vendors. It returns a list of all credit unions that are using, for example, a data processor such as Symitar," she explained. "The tools section contains other resources credit unions can turn to."

'An Identified Need'

The ListServe is fairly new, and currently has fewer than 20 participants. Northup said the league is working to build usage as "it isn't getting what we want to see."

There is no schedule for adding new resources to the web page. Northup said the league will monitor the ListServe and take direction from the topics participating CUs suggest.

"The web page was born out of an identified need for mid-sized credit unions. I hope a lot of people will use it, and make sure we are meeting their needs.

Solares said the web page already is garnering positive reviews.

"The CEO of one mid-sized credit union told me the resources credit unions need are out there, but, at times, CEOs don't know they are out there. The website allows credit unions to search for suppliers and post resources they want to share."

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