Christie Eugene, the recently installed chairman of the Credit Union National Association, does not personify the monster that many commercial bankers seem to see in the credit union movement.
In fact, Mr. Eugene turns the other cheek toward the banking rivals who in recent years have lambasted credit unions for, among other things, using their tax-exempt status to compete unfairly for consumer loans and deposits.
"We are in this thing together," Mr. Eugene said in a recent interview. "Bashing doesn't help."
He pointed out that the asset total of all 14,000 credit unions combined is less than Citicorp's, and that while banking is an "industry," credit unions are "a system, a movement."
'Missions Are Different'
"Banks and credit unions are doing two different things," he added. "The missions are different. There are no legitimate reasons for these grievances."
He said bankers often lose sight of the fact that credit unions do a lot of business with banks - depositing funds, cooperation with them to comply with the Community Reinvestment Act, and providing other community assistance.
But if the political heat on credit unions intensifies in the coming year, Mr. Eugene seems uniquely qualified to withstand it.
Mr. Eugene, 62, has worked in credit unions all his adult life - going back to his first job as a firefighter in Norfolk, Va., in 1949.
For 20 years he did volunteer work for the Norfolk Fire Department Federal Credit Union. Then he moved into a paid management position at the credit union, which has $10 million in assets. He has been treasurer-manager for 22 years.
Mr. Eugene grew up in the Bronx, N.Y. He studied engineering at Old Dominion University in Norfolk. Later, he took courses in finance at the University of Virginia.
He was a director of Virginia's Credit Union League in 1976, a national director in 1981, and chairman of the Virginia league from 1983 to 1987. He was elected secretary of the national trade group, CUNA, in 1987. Mr. Eugene succeeded Janet Miller as elected head of CUNA.
"I will enjoy this job," Mr. Eugene said after his two-year term as chairman began last month. "It's the concept of people helping people."
But even after a successful rally in Washington earlier this year, where credit union representatives pressed to preserve their independent regulator and insurance fund, Mr. Eugene complained about a lack of unity. "We should be going as one group, speaking with one voice, if Congress is expected to listen," he said.
Mr. Eugene does not foresee health problems in the credit union system that approach the recent crisis in Rhode Island, which made national headlines when a private deposit-insurance fund defaulted. Most of the few remaining privately insured credit unions are converting to federal insurance.
When there are problems, Mr. Eugene supports the concept of mutual aid from other credit unions in a given state. A believer in retaining the credit union movement's decentralized, personalized character, he denounces "futurists" who call for merging and consolidating credit unions.
Priority on Credit Union 'Partnership'
He is disappointed at the level of participation in some services provided by CUNA designed to support member credit unions. These include a mortgage financing service and Car Fax, which provides price and financing information to car buyers.
Like bankers, credit union people are concerned about the quality of their regulatory examinations - and about complaints from bankers that credit unions are too loosely regulated.
The association is conducting a national survey of 3,000 members to assess experiences, attitudes, and complaints about both state and federal examinations. "The Fair Oversight of Credit Unions [Focus] project will tell us what is going on in individual states," Mr. Eugene said. "and we will let the results be known to Congress."
"The main thrust is to maintain dual chartering" - the option of obtaining either a federal or state charter," he said.