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Credit Unions Came To DC With Questions, And, Well, Um...

If you like your loose ends tied up or you're one of those "closure" people, then you're feeling a might uncomfortable right now, especially if you were at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference last week.

Credit unions seeking answers over NCUA's Corporate Stabilization Plan, exactly how much it's going to cost you, and how you and when you're supposed to write that down, just have more questions. Those questions have led to others-and that's just about the stabilization plan. Some CEOs I talked to last week suggested they are more worried about the home-wrecking effects of the mortgage cramdown bill working its way through Congress.

That said, here are some related notes and other observations from CUNA's GAC:

* The best way to sum up the state of the CU community right now, and exemplified during GAC? A lost tribe in search of direction and no one has a compass. During multiple Q&As, there were plenty of Qs, but CUNA would have had to move the meeting to Oakland to find many As. Many of the CU leaders I spoke with during GAC were disillusioned CUNA wasn't/isn't doing more, but in the trade group's defense, frankly, there are so many outstanding issues, such as the PIMCO evaluation of U.S. Central's portfolio and NCUA's final plan, it's difficult to offer up specific responses. Ever had a kid smirk at you and say "TMI." Never an issue at GAC.

* Although there were no unruly mobs or burning torches, it's no secret there's plenty of anger over the NCUA plan to pump capital back into certain corporate credit unions. Anger over the surprise proposal to tap the income of natural-person CUs. Anger at the management at certain corporates (including by some other corporates and member CUs). Anger over the perceived lack of transparency at NCUA. Anger that the gleaming white hat of credit unions looks like it's being dragged behind a horse.

* CUNA CEO Dan Mica acknowledged CUs are "angry" and described reaction to the corporate bailout plan as a "barbell," with opinion grouped at opposing ends. (And each group willing to lift only its side.) I was told by more than one person it was his view that CEOs are more upset than their boards, but there were plenty of volunteers volunteering that they weren't in their happy place, either, even as many seemed to be hearing details for the first time.

* Just a guess, but irony was at work in keeping that mob from forming and those torches from burning during the special session at GAC on the corporate stabilization plan. You might think the crowd of several-thousand who were SRO and PO'd would KO any reasonable Q&A. The large crowd was testament to concern over any corporate plan, but large crowds also work to stifle a lot of public dissent. People just feel less comfortable standing up before large groups, although about a half-dozen did take to the microphones. But break those people up into smaller groupings, as has happened in some states, and you can bet the rhetoric would have been much more heated.

* Bean counters, beware. Accountants, noted one lawyer during GAC, have now replaced the legal profession on the Dartboard of Disrespect. Every statement that "accounting" issues were much to blame for the current mess was met by applause during GAC.

* Speaking of rallies, if you've ever been to a football game and seen a team getting beaten raw even as its oblivous cheerleaders continue cheering Rah!, you would have a sense of some of the empty attempts at optimism during GAC. There were numerous efforts to cheer the crowd, to hype the strong credit union story, to offer inspiration that credit unions will lead the U.S. out of the recession, as Rep. Paul Kanjorski suggested, but it mostly fell flat. Even Dan Mica, who typically takes the stage with a rousing "Isn't it great to be in Washington!," seemed to recognize that would have been about as popular as, "Isn't it great to read your 401(k) statements!" Instead, Mica said, "I'm used to coming out here and cheerleading, but I'm not going to do that today. We've got a serious situation."

* Finally, I would like to again thank everyone, and there were many, who approached me at GAC to compliment Credit Union Journal on its coverage of the corporate issues and other challenges to credit unions right now. Let me also again emphasize we welcome your input, thoughts, ideas, at any time.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.

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