Lack Of Awareness Of Credit Unions Called 'Disturbing'

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Credit unions must become aware of just how "unaware" some very important constituencies are of what credit unions are-chief among them, the general public and legislators.

That is the warning from Dave Chatfield, president of the California league, who said research in recent years has shown a "disturbing" lack of awareness of CUs by the general public and, as a result, elected officials.

"Non-members don't understand what credit unions are. Seventy percent of Californians identified banks as their primary financial institution and would support banks in a dispute with credit unions," he cautioned. "This is important because elected officials unfamiliar with credit unions directly affect our operating environment. We must educate policy makers and the public on the importance of credit unions and what we stand for."

Chatfield told attendees at the league's Big Valley Educational Conference here the American Bankers Association has undertaken a long-term effort to persuade federal and state lawmakers, and CUs must respond by increasing their advocacy efforts.

"I urge you to contact lawmakers, especially members of the House Ways and Means Committee," he said in his conference-opening league management report.

The CU movement learned several lessons from the recent battles with bankers in Utah and Iowa, Chatfield declared. In Utah, the state legislature is "dominated" by bankers, he said. When the banks initiated a drive to tax CUs, lobbyists for the credit union movement made little headway dealing directly with legislators. However, an advertising campaign successfully appealed to the public.

A similar scenario unfolded in Iowa, he said. "Bankers attacked credit unions. Research showed more than half of the public agreed with the banks. But an advertising campaign shifted public opinion, and once again we fought the bankers to a draw."

California Legislative Issues

The California CU League is continuing its efforts to build relationships with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as other lawmakers, Chatfield reported. Due to California's term limits laws, one-third of the 80-member state assembly turns over every two years. He said CUs must reach out to these new lawmakers.

Looking ahead, Chatfield said 2,500 to 3,000 pieces of legislation will be introduced in the California legislature in the next month.

"This is still an election year and, with the primary behind us, we have a clearer picture of where California is heading. We will be very active between now and the general election in November. This year, we have seen an unprecedented level of attacks by banks. We see something new every day - sometimes twice a day."

On the federal level, the CCUL will be watching bankruptcy reform, the "regulatory relief" bill and the standalone credit union bill, he added.

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