DALLAS - After a series of setbacks, the president of the Credit Union National Association is being forced to step down.

Ralph Swoboda announced Monday at the association's annual convention that he will leave at the end of the year. He offered no explanation for his departure from the organization, where he has worked for 20 years and has been president for eight.

But a number of sources within the trade group said CUNA's board believes Mr. Swoboda failed to provide strong leadership in fighting a Senate bill that would strengthen the federal government's oversight of federally insured state-chartered credit unions.

Also, the association lost $2.4 million in the first nine months of the year, largely because of the cost of converting its credit card subsidiary to a new processing system.

A successor to Mr. Swoboda has not yet been named.

While the trade group's leadership had apparently lost faith in Mr. Swoboda, the association's rank and file appeared stunned by the announcement.

"It's a real loss," said John Tippets, chief executive of $1.7 billion- asset American Airlines Federal Credit Union. "He's got depth, he's got intelligence, he's got integrity."

"Let me put it this way, last year we voted Ralph the first 'Friend of the Federation,'" said Cliff Rosenthal, executive director of the CUNA- affiliated National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.

"He's a person who believed strongly in our mission and tried to help our credit unions and extend the reach of the credit union movement into inner cities," Mr. Rosenthal added.

"But there had been a series of reversals, and the person in charge often takes the heat," Mr. Rosenthal said.

Mr. Swoboda, who left the convention on Monday, could not be reached at his office in Madison, Wis., nor at his home. But sources close to Mr. Swoboda said that he had been fired.

In a news release Mr. Swoboda gave no reason for his departure and said only, "It's been a great 20 years at CUNA. I wish all the best to the fine people there and throughout the credit union movement."

CUNA chairman Peter DiSylvester in an interview denied that Mr. Swoboda was ousted and said he had simply chosen not to renew his employment contract beyond Dec. 31.

"Everybody was just unprepared for this," Mr. DiSylvester said. "We did not have any advance knowledge of this, no."

However, Mr. DiSylvester declined to comment when asked if other heads might roll, as some CUNA sources say is now likely. "I'm not at liberty to comment on that now," he said.

The trade group board on Monday picked a six-member committee to find a replacement for Mr. Swoboda. Mr. DiSylvester said he and Nancy Pierce, secretary of the board, will be on that committee, but declined to name other members, saying they had not yet been notified of their selection.

No clear successor is apparent, and Mr. DiSylvester said he doesn't yet know what sort of person will be tapped to replace Mr. Swoboda.

"We're going to seek as much input as we can from the industry in creating a profile" of a successor, Mr. DiSylvester said. "We're going to seek as much input as we can, so we can find someone to lead us into the 21st century."

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