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New CUNA CEO Says Prior Roles At Corporates Are Not A Hindrance

WASHINGTON-New CUNA President Bill Cheney said he doesn't expect his role in the corporate crisis, as a one-time director at both U.S. Central FCU and WesCorp FCU, to limit him in lobbying NCUA, even as the federal regulator mulls claims in both cases against executives and directors of the two failed corporates.

"I've always had a good relationship with NCUA, during four years [as CEO] of the California league. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't continue," Cheney told Credit Union Journal during an interview last week. He downplayed the potential that a legal conflict might restrict his ability to meet with NCUA officials as they study whether to bring civil charges or insurance claims against officers and directors of U.S. Central and WesCorp.

Cheney's taking over CUNA comes as NCUA has filed a notice with the insurer for U.S. Central that it may file claims against the directors and officers of the troubled corporate giant, and as a civil suit in California naming directors and officers of WesCorp as defendants is heating up. Both cases threaten to pit major players in the credit union movement on the docket amid mounting charges for the corporate bailout.

The new CUNA CEO was reluctant to discuss his role at the two corporates, because of the likelihood of litigation, only to say he left the board of WesCorp, where he served as CEO of Xerox FCU, in 2006, before the major financial troubles began to emerge. He served on the board at U.S. Central as the representative of the American Association of CU Leagues.

"I am confident the record will show that, throughout my service on the boards of both WesCorp and U.S. Central," he said. "I took my duties very seriously and participated in meetings of the boards out of a dedication to the best interests of each corporate credit union and its members."

Cheney takes over the CUNA helm as Dan Mica departs after 14 years. Mica will be formally feted at CUNA's The One Credit Union Conference in Las Vegas next week. The two men came at the CUNA job from different angles. Mica came from a career in Congress, first as a staffer, then as an elected member of the House. Cheney has spent 25 years in the credit union movement, first as a consultant, then as CEO, then as head of a major credit union lobby group, the California/Nevada CU Leagues.

The changing of the guard comes as CUNA is facing major legislative challenges in Washington-the pending bank bill with an interchange amendment, and the push to raise the business loan cap-and as credit unions are digesting the second of what is expected to be numerous annual assessments to pay the costs of the corporate bailout. Cheney said his first days at CUNA were spent rousing up a final push for political action on the two legislative initiatives-one last chance to stop the bank bill and a final effort to get the long-sought business loan bill passed.

Cheney, the first CUNA president to have CEO experience in some 30 years, conceded credit unions are in crisis-he just came from running the California and Nevada leagues-but he is optimistic on resolving their problems as a movement. His initial weeks and months, he said will be working with the CUNA Board and committees, including the Corporate CU Task Force, as well as the state leagues and credit union executives, in designing a plan.