Sarbanes Cautions, 'Don't Become Too Bank-Like'

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Though a long-time supporter of the credit union movement, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) cautioned credit unionists against becoming too bank-like.

"I believe strongly in the traditional orientation of the credit union movement," he said. "Credit unions have been growing at a rapid rate over the last few years...there has been consolidation in the industry that has led to a concentration of assets in the larger-sized entities, and larger credit unions have tended to appear similar to their bank counterparts. There are forces in society that argue the more you look like a bank, the more you should be treated like a bank," he said, steering just clear of actually mentioning the tax exemption as part of that "treatment."

Sarbanes also reminded credit unions that the fight for HR 1151 in 1998 wasn't an easy one, noting that while the voting numbers indicate massive support for credit unions, that didn't mean it was a slam-dunk for credit unions and was careful to point out that Congress made it clear in HR 1151 that credit unions are tax exempt because they are member-owned, democratically operated, managed by volunteer members AND serve their members, "especially those of modest means."

Sarbanes' message of the importance of remaining true to those things that differentiate the CU movement and his oblique reference to his support of the credit union tax exemption-"I strongly support that differentiated treatment"-instead of a straightforward "I support the credit union tax exemption," left a crowd that was primed for the obligatory standing ovation for the "magic words"-and for a long-time CU supporter who plans to retire at the end of his term-at a bit of a loss. There was a slight hesitation before the audience realized that Sarbanes really had expressed his support of the tax exemption.

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