Notes On The Helpers, The Not So Helpful, And The Hired Help

Maybe they were just mad they didn't get a mint.

In case you missed it, during International Credit Union Week CUNA hosted what it called a "CU Helper Day" on Capitol Hill with CU reps around town holding umbrellas over folks, opening doors and distributing 1,500 boxes of mints to commuters exiting the Capitol South Metro station and at selected House offices. But one group apparently didn't appreciate the "help." CUNA reported that a group of bankers leaving a House office building had their door held open by one such helper, and they didn't respond with a thank you-although rumor has it they did ponder assessing a fee. Instead, at least one person said, "Credit unions are evil-they should be taxed." They may be on to something-taxing evil could go a long way toward balancing the federal budget.

* If you haven't been keeping up with events at credit unions in the U.K, a simultaneous bit of coincidence, dark humor, despair and uniqueness-within-uniqueness has occurred. A credit union named "Streetcred" has been shuttered, leaving about 3,000 members worried about what will happen to their savings (regulators were offering assurances all members are protected-but that members likely wouldn't see their funds until Christmas) and darkening an already black eye for credit unions in the U.K. One local report said, "Its downfall prompted fears among users of other credit unions over whether their savings may be in jeopardy."

First, it's great to have a hip name, but nothing quite erodes your streetcred like going belly-up. One English blogger said he could only wonder what other names were considered at the organizational meeting: Gangsta CU? Your Mutha CU?

Streetcred was based in Rochedale, England. If you have just a cursory exposure to credit union history, you're likely (semi) familiar with the Raiffeissen movement in Germany and the Alphonse Desjardins' caisse populaires in Quebec as the basis for credit unions in the U.S. Often overlooked, however, is the historical role of another group operating before either of those two, the Rochedale Equitable Pioneer Society, which was formed by the weavers of Rochedale in 1844. It is considered to be the birthplace for the fair governing practices that would grow into the global cooperative movement. When former U.S. Central CEO Dan Kampen set up his consultancy, he named the company The Rochedale Group in their honor.

The bad news in England is that Streetcred isn't the only credit union without streetcred. Eight CUs have closed in the past year; there are about 400 in the country. Patrick Collinson, a columnist for The Guardian in Ireland, noted that unlike the "bustling" CUs found in every Irish city, England's CU are the "charity shop end of the savings market, often staffed by volunteer" and operating under "Victorian regulations."

But he also went on to criticize as outmoded the concept of "common bond" and the payment of "dividends," rather than interest. That's ironic, given the robust presence of CUs in Ireland, and the fact U.S. credit unions have grown quite nicely with common bonds and while paying dividends. That view doesn't really help his streetcred.

* Next week the Bank Administration Institute will be hosting its annual Retail Delivery Conference in Vegas. Normally, I'd say the Credit Union Journal will provide complete coverage, but apparently not.

Among the keynoters for the event is former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who is likely pulling down six figures for his hour of "work." Members of the media who plan to be in attendance at the meeting have been warned by BAI: "We wish to remind you that BAI's contractual obligations forbid members of the press or employees of media organizations from entering Dr. Alan Greenspan's general session...We sincerely appreciate your understanding of the commitment made to Dr. Greenspan...." I, for one, sincerely don't appreciate or understand.

This is, after all, a man who is speaking solely because of acclaim he achieved as a public servant on the public payroll. He's the same guy who didn't seem to object to media coverage when he was pushing his just-published memoirs. And from the irony (or contradiction) department, he's also the same guy who's married to Andrea Mitchell, the NBC TV journalist. Perhaps she has a contractual obligation, too.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann<at>cujournal.com. (c) 2007 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.cujournal.com http://www.sourcemedia.com