New ABA Chair 'Rabid Anti-Credit Unionist'

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In an unsual personal attack launched at CUNA's Future Forum last week, top CUNA executives criticized Harris Simmons, the Utah banker who was scheduled to be named chairman of the American Bankers Association.

Under Simmons' guardianship at the bankers' group, "attacks on credit unions will only intensify," said outgoing CUNA Chairman Dick Ensweiler during CUNA's Annual General Meeting. He referred to the head of Zions Bancorp as the "most rabid anti-credit unionist."

"Nobody in America," said CUNA President Dan Mica, "is more committed to changing the way credit unions operate than Harris Simmons."

Mica said Simmons, a long-time credit union foe, is already meeting with other banking groups to plot legislative attacks. As a result, said Mica, "next year will be our biggest challenge."

The following day Simmons confirmed the CUNA exec's warnings and returned the fire as he was officially named the new chairman of the ABA at the group's annual convention in Palm Desert, California.

Simmons told the assembled bankers he plans to use his position as a member of the Financial Services Roundtable to work to persuade the nation's largest banks to join the fight against credit unions. "The credit union issue affects banks of all sizes," Simmons said during his remarks at the convention. "It's a retail banking issue, and some of the largest institutions in this country derive a great deal of their income from retail banking."

The Zions Bancorp chief also said he hopes to enlist the help of bank employees and shareholders to help fight the credit unions.

Simmons, the son of a banker, has long been the chief antagonist of Utah credit unions. He led the successful fight to have the state legislature rein in the field of membership rules for state-chartered credit unions, severely limiting their markets. He was also front and center in the unsuccessful effort to convince the state legislature to tax the largest state charters, which prompted more than a dozen of the biggest credit unions to abandon their state charters for the tax-exempt federal charter.

Zions is the biggest Utah-based banking company and holds more than $33 billion in assets-roughly ten times as big as the largest Utah credit union, American First FCU. Zions recently agreed to acquire Texas-based Amegy Bancorp, for $1.7 billion.

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