WASHINGTON - The nation's largest credit union trade group is mounting a campaign aimed at making its members more competitive with banks and other financial services providers.

Daniel A. Mica, president of the Credit Union National Association, announced Wednesday that it would form a "blue-ribbon" commission to study potential changes to credit union laws and improvements to federal and state charters. Calling it the "most important commission we've had in many years," Mr. Mica said the panel would hold a series of hearings and focus groups and make recommendations to lawmakers in mid- to late 2001.

"Congress just passed a major law for banks," said Mr. Mica in a conference call. "We need an HR 10 for credit unions."

Though he was short on specifics, Mr. Mica did single out the policies of the National Credit Union Administration as one area of concern. With more than 130 federal credit unions converting to state charters in recent years, Mr. Mica said it was imperative that the panel examine the "structure" of the NCUA and how it implements regulations.

"It's no secret that the credit union movement feels that the NCUA could operate more efficiently, more effectively, and with less internal dissension," he said.

NCUA Chairman Norman D'Amours was traveling and unavailable for comment.

Mr. Mica added that state charters would also be looked at - especially in light of the fact that a number of credit unions have recently converted to savings banks.

Banking industry representatives said they would fiercely oppose any effort to enhance the credit union charter. Banks have long objected to credit unions' tax-exempt status and strongly believe that credit unions received more than they deserved when Congress passed a bill in 1998 that allowed them to expand their fields of membership.

"Anything that CUNA would propose that would constitute an expansion of the credit union charter would engender a huge fight on why bank-like credit unions shouldn't be regulated and taxed like banks," said Edward L. Yingling, chief lobbyist for the American Bankers Association.

But Mr. Mica said the 1998 law - passed by huge margins - was far more defensive than offensive.

The law "never represented an effort to create a new world for credit unions," he said. "We had to win … to keep credit unions from being put out of business."

Dubbed the "credit union renaissance commission," the panel will consist of 18 to 24 credit union professionals appointed within the next few weeks.

The National Association of Federal Credit Unions said it is also seeking enhancements to the federal credit union charter and fully supports CUNA's efforts. "As we have seen in the past, when NAFCU and CUNA push hard in the same direction, credit unions benefit," said NAFCU chairman Ron Keeler.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.