Wisconsin CUL Rolls Out Program For Smaller CUs

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The Wisconsin Credit Union League is reaching out to the smallest credit unions in the state to help them improve their performance.

Jim Drogue, the league's vice president of operations, said a program started last fall with a test pilot will now seek to eventually reach as many as possible of the one-third of the 285 credit unions in the state with less than $20 million in assets.

Six credit unions whose boards accepted the help will take part in the program this year and resources may be added to the program so that the number of credit unions helped may rise in 2006, he added.

Drogue says the program is a result of conversations he had about a year and a half ago with the state regulator that led to suggestions on how smaller credit unions could improve their return to members or grow.

The league's efforts are geared towards adding expertise to small credit unions where the CEO must often wear many hats at once.

For the consultancies, the league tapped Bill Rockeman, a former CFO of a $90-million CU in the state, and Kay Hinkens, former CEO of a $178-million CU also in Wisconsin.

"We are trying to reach credit unions that have an interest in us coming to them to do the program. The board has to agree and commit their effort and time," Drogue said.

"We are not (particularly) looking for credit unions that are in trouble. They may be doing a good job but have limited resources."

Small credit unions taking part in the program don't have to make any payments other than their regular league membership dues.

Drogue said it was hard to estimate the cost of the program to the league, as beneficiaries receive it for free. The league pays lodging, transportation and other costs to get consultants at credit unions. In addition, it pays the tutoring for the compliance programs as part of the package of help for the small CUs. "Overall, credit unions throughout the state are supporting the program. They recognize the value of helping smaller CUs."

Small credit unions are important because they represent the "core of the strength" of the credit union movement and the help they provide to communities and certain employee groups is key, he added.

"In addition to helping management we work with boards of directors," Drogue explained. That training aims to help board members identify their priorities and get a better picture of "what their role is and the expectations" from them.

The programs and training provided by the league varies. "Each has a little different circumstance," he said.

For example, "if it is a close charter we look at opportunities they may have to grow but have not recognized such as promoting to existing base, improving rates, adding basic marketing," etc, he said.

At larger CUs, they can afford to hire expertise to fill different areas but in the small ones a CEO takes a lot of the responsibilities, he added. "We know they don't have deep pockets but there are some things that we can do to help," Drogue said.

The first credit union that took part in the program was Lakeside CU, based in Oak Creek, in the south of Wisconsin.

Drogue said that he has heard from the state regulator that overall both large and small credit unions in the state are doing "quite well."

Delinquencies and losses are under control and unemployment is low while the economy of the state, know for its breweries and dairy companies, looks strong, Drogue said.

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