It's Amazing What a Word or Two Can Mean in Many Ways

Perhaps no word conjures up more of a diverse reaction now than "mortgage."

Not since "Home Alone" has a concept evoked such disparate imagery, a nest of safety and warmth to some, a hellish paint can to the face of others. For credit unions, mortgages represent an extraordinary lending opportunity at the very same time they are writing off a corporate assessment and impairment as the result of mortgage-backed securities.

As the resident of one of those so-called "sand states," I've seen both the euphoric insanity of the bubble and the depressing reality of the crash. Last week I spoke to a friend, ironically, a home builder, who said after a year after listing a home he couldn't afford and not even getting any nibbles, he had recently stopped making payments. A neighbor of his, he noted almost with satisfaction, hadn't made a payment in 22 months and had yet to even receive a letter from the lender.

But cynicism is hardly the case everywhere. Indeed, 1,450 miles north in Maine ("rock" state?), CUs are excited over mortgage lending possibilities. In Augusta, Maine, recently for the Maine league's annual, I sat in a room of folks who talked of mortgage volume doubling and even tripling over last year.

"Things are tense right now, but they're going to get better," said Oskowsky, who predicted that with the boom-and-bust mortgage market cycle, it was likely that in 2019 the country will go through yet another downturn. Oskowsky, who shared a dozen or more mortgage lending strategies and tips during his session (CU Journal, June 8), said he wasn't exactly surprised to see the big secondary market players come crashing down. He shared that earlier in his career, "We used to sit and giggle at some of the applications approved by Fannie and Freddie."

Speaking of the Maine league's annual, on the day the meeting opened there was a bit of a line at the door of the Augusta Civic Center. "This must be one popular league meeting," I found myself thinking as I crossed the parking lot, but as I got closer to the building I discovered the 25 people in line at the ticket window had been waiting to get the first tickets to an upcoming concert by the band Sugarland. Many of those in line had spent a wet, cold night in line. I suppose their passion was admirable, but really, could their seats be that much better than the guy who slept in his own bed all night and was 26th in line?

In next week's issue Credit Union Journal will feature numerous folks offering insights into what they expect to see for the second half of the year. Among them is former NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar, who now leads his own consulting firm, and who shared that interest in mergers has risen dramatically. Those mergers, no doubt, will result in name changes, many of the "neological" variety, meaning they are made up, don't mean anything, or refer to a geographical location.

Let's admit it: a lot of these new CU names are easily confused and more easily forgotten.

It was hard not to think of all that recently in noting the name change by Retail Employees CU in the Twin Cities to SharePoint CU. Nothing wrong with SharePoint, but what is most interesting is that it started out in 1933 with a name that would be pretty brandable today: Red Owl Employees CU. Obviously, the old sponsor is gone and the "Employees" would need to be dropped, but Red Owl would make for a heck of a CU name. Red is vibrant and noticeable, and an owl implies wisdom.

We opened with a league meeting, we close with a league meeting, this one that of Georgia CU Affiliates. Among the very first leagues to partner with a foreign country's CUs through a World Council program, Georgia has a long relationship with Poland's quick development from fledgling concept in a post-communist country to mature CU community in a vibrant capitalistic democracy.

At GCUA's recent annual meeting in Savannah, Pawel Grzesik, who heads the Warsaw office for the National Association of Cooperative Savings and Credit Unions, followed another speaker to the podium by noting, "I don't have a funny story, but listening to my accent should be sufficiently energizing."

Just how far CUs have come in Poland is evident in the attacks on the movement by the country's bankers, which recently pushed legislation that would have CUs convert to banks once they hit a certain asset threshold. "This battle happened in 1948 and it was won by the Communitsts. Will it happen now? No!" declared Grzesik.

Grzesik told Georgia's CUs that the days when all the management advice and best practices flowed one way West to East across the Atlantic are coming to an end.

"In 1991, you were a zillion years ahead of us," he told the meeting. "Now we have some best practices to share with you."

Sometimes words really translate well.

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