Tea Parties, Five & Dimes, And The New 'Up'

Credit unions are having a bit of a Tea Party moment of their own. As this issue of Credit Union Journal attests, no issue has engendered the kind of reaction as has the failure and resulting cost of five corporate CUs. Letters to the editor have filled our inbox, with many using phrases such as "unfair bailout," "sticking it to the innocent," and "robbing Peter to pay Paul." In particular, the managers of small CUs have been voicing outright anger at the NCUA assessments and the fact many feel they have run good and decent co-ops but will have no choice but to merge. I wonder if the state and national associations realize just how disconnected from the rest of the CU community many CUs feel right now.

• Are you among those feeling angry? Perhaps a song will cheer you up. In this case, it's the "Credit Union Song," which was released in conjunction with the Washington league's recent annual meeting. The song was written and performed by Kitsap CU's Brandon Johnston. Grab your iPod. An mp3 of the song can be had at www.waleague.org.

• Was in Branson, Mo. recently for a meeting jointly hosted by the Missouri and Oklahoma leagues. Among those appearing as part of a panel was Darren Dutton, an NCUA supervisory examiner. While examiners can't drive growth, he observed, "You can't tread water. If it's between being patient and doing something, remember there is a fine line between treading water and sinking."

At the same meeting, Stan Hollen, president of CO-OP Financial Services, noted how many credit unions continue to run operations in-house even as larger institutions prove the value of outsourcing most functions. But he offered a caveat that CUs should not outsource services to banks or bank-owned companies. Those banks don't provide any support for the cooperative structure of CUs, Hollen said, adding that doing business with banks is the same as making a donation to the American Bankers Association.

• Speaking of Branson, if a credit union in South Central Missouri were to expand its FOM to "Entertainment Acts A Majority of Americans Believe to Be Dead," it would be a sure-fire way to grow.

While in downtown Branson, inside Dick's 5 & 10, which is a tribute to the old-time five-and-dimes and which has shelves jammed with nostalgia and kitsch thought to have gone the way of the Saturday Evening Post, this announcement was made by an employee: "Dave, do you know if we have any decorations for outhouses?" For all I know it was part of the shtick, and the whole country general store ambience is being staged by some Harvard MBA in the backroom. But it worked. And if you want to know more, go to www.dicksoldtime5and10.com.

• October, as you no doubt know, is National Cooperative month. If you're keeping track, there are 29,000 co-ops in the U.S. (including the 7,500 CUs) that account for approximately $654-billion in revenue. It might be a good time to ID the co-ops in your area, and explore some partnerships.

• While in San Antonio for the NASCUS annual meeting, the hotel was also being used for a conference of the "Texas Jesters," part of the larger Royal Order of Jesters, in case you were curious about those who refuse to let go of the Middle Ages. The group's conference slogan noted that the "Mirth is Bigger and Better in Texas." When's the last time you saw a good reference to "Mirth" in a conference title. By the way, if you go to their website, you'll also find a link for the "No. 1 fez supplier."

• At the NASCUS meeting, CUNA Mutual CEO Jeff Post observed that "flat is the new up." On a more serious note, Post pointed out that in a flat market, "There are a lot of people who thrive in bad economic times. The challenge is to align your strategies with the time in which you're playing."

• It's worth noting that for years NASCUS was a bit of a lone wolf when it came to secondary (or supplemental or alternative) capital. But the economic downturn, the corporate failures and the resulting assessments has brought more wolves to the pack. NCUA is on board, but the big change is at CUNA, where CEO Bill Cheney said secondary capital will be a top legislative priority in 2011. "It's a decade overdue" said Parker Cann of BECU in Seattle, who is also chair of the NASCUS CU Council.

• During the NASCUS meeting, one person raised another dormant issue, expanding the NCUA board to five members from three to include people with direct CU experience (even though two of the three current members have CU experience; Michael Fryzel, a former state regulator, and Gigi Hyland, who worked for the Association of Corporate CUs).

• It's an election year, so we get used to hearing wishy-washy stances. That's not the case here. John Annaloro, president of the Washington league, told the NASCUS meeting that the "NCUA corporate proposal kills the corporates, and then chops the corporates up, and then nukes the site of where the corporates used to be."

• I guess the theory is to help folks avoid having to buy a gift: National Boss' day is Oct. 16. That's a Saturday.

Frank J. Diekmann is publisher of Credit Union Journal and can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.