Most members of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions want to open their ranks to include state-chartered institutions.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, NAFCU asked its members if state-chartered, federally insured institutions should be admitted: Six out of 10 Said yes.

The trade group also sent the survey to 2,200 state-chartered credit unions, half of which said they would want to join.

NAFCU has 755 members, representing 52% of the assets held by federal credit unions. It has grappled with the membership question for a decade.

The association's planning committee has been charged with developing a new membership category and determining the status state credit unions would have within the association.

The committee will submit a report at the December board meeting, said Patrick Keefe. spokesman for the Arlington, Va.-based trade group.

"The first thing we have to do is figure out whether it would work," Mr. Keefe said. "Any decision the board makes depends on what comes back from the planning committee."

Mr. Keefe said it was unclear whether the final say over admitting state charters would be made by the group's board or its entire membership.

Also, changing the group's name hasn't been discussed.

Whatever happens, one thing is almost certain: NAFCU's focus on federal issues would remain sacrosanct.

"I've been told by our members that it's OK as long as we don't change our focus," Mr. Keefe said.

That means it's doubtful that NAFCU would get involved in state4evel issues. But, Mr. Keefe said, federal issues have taken on more importance for state charters with most of them now federally insured.

Officials of the the industry's largest trade group, the Credit Union National Association, are skeptical of NAFCU's move.

"NAFCU does a good job as a niche trade association," said John Gregoire, executive vice president of association services for CUNA. "I think with their current resources they would be stretched to provide real services at a state level."

Boosting membership is a major reason NAFCU is looking at state charters.

Its membership has remained steady over the past five years and as Credit unions continue to consolidate, the number of potential members diminishes.

More members also means more clout.

"The more membership a trade group has, the more relevance it has on Capitol Hill and with the federal regulator:' Mr. Keefe said. "That's the reality."

But Ronald Keeler, head ot the NAFCU planning committee. said he wouldn't recommend admitting state charters solely to lengthen membership rolls. "There's got Iobe a value added" for NAFCU.

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