San Diego Stepped up lobbying has won California credit unions new powers and new clout in the state Legislature.
Last week Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, signed into law a bill that immediately let state-chartered credit unions offer the same insurance products that federally chartered banks can sell under the last years Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.
And industry-sponsored laws signed earlier this month and a year ago extended the reach of state credit unions into other states.
Bob Arnould, a lobbyist for the California Credit Union League, said the latest law expands the types of insurance products that California credit unions can sell, to include fire, casualty, and life insurance.
This is our attempt to keep California credit unions current with the financial services industry, to make sure that were not behind the curve, Mr. Arnould said.
The California Bankers Association had initially opposed the measure. There was a provision that would have given credit unions parity with any other financial institution licensed by the Department of Financial Institutions which would be banks, savings associations, and industrial loan banks, said Jamie Clark, a lobbyist for the bank group. After that was taken out of the bill, we dropped our opposition.
The California Independent Bankers took no position on the final draft, but executive director Craig Hudson said the new law could exacerbate tensions between banks and credit unions.
We think they have an unfair advantage, because they are designated as nonprofit organizations and as a consequence do not have to pay taxes, Mr. Hudson said. We have no problem with the small credit unions with $10 million and under in assets, but its those giants that compete directly with community banks that concern us.
In September of last year the governor signed legislation that lets California-chartered credit unions serve member groups in other states and in foreign countries. And this Sept. 6 he signed one letting them open out-of-state branches and letting credit unions chartered in other states or countries open branches in California.
The California Bankers Association had initially opposed the second of these bills, Mr. Clark said, because the original version would have allowed foreign and other state credit unions to operate under liberal California membership rules.
However, the group dropped its opposition after the bill was amended to make those credit unions comply in California with the membership rules of their home jurisdictions, generally considered more restrictive than those in California.
Henry Kertman, a Credit Union League spokesman, said the passage of his groups three bills reflects its increasing willingness to push for what it wants.
Credit unions have learned a great deal about how to effectively influence elected officials since Congress passed HR 1151, which allows credit unions to go outside traditional common bonds to recruit members, Mr. Kertman said. Once that was passed, weve made it a point not to sit back and wait.
That effort has also translated into a more attractive state charter in California. Since 1996, 34 federal credit unions have switched to it or applied to do so.
But Lou Nevins, the president of the Western League of Savings Institutions, said that though credit unions are gaining political power, they may be losing ground to banks in other ways.
Some of the credit unions are finding that their operations are pretty confining, and so [they] are becoming mutual thrift organizations, Mr. Nevins said.