How CUs Left The Little Guy Behind

Editor's note: this letter was written in response to "Mom-and-Pop Retailers Try To Check Debit Fees" from March 7 edition of CU Journal Daily briefing.

Two-tiers, ATM exemptions, unbundling value-added services, Fed neutrality, Congressional ambivalence, Odd-Fellow lawsuits, and a host of Chickens Little squawking about their piece of the sky falling on everyone's head. Does anyone wonder why this Great Interchange Debate is so confusing? Why the news media isn't presenting this issue to the public? Why the Big Banks are curiously silent? And why the final argument presented by everyone who is squawking is: "It's either my way or the highway."

If anything is not confusing from listening to this endless and seemingly irreconcilable debate, it's the fact that Sen. Durbin, no matter how well-intended, got it wrong. But, much worse than that, no one was interested in cooperating the slightest bit to get it right, least of all credit unions. Time and again throughout this Great Recession, credit unions have been handed an opportunity to lead in the great debates against greed, secrecy, duplicity, fraud and usury so endemic in the world of American for-profit finance, offering a completely different business model and way of thinking through systemic financial problems-a unique brand. And what have we done instead? Time and again, we have ducked and hidden among the wolves, the Little Guys dressed in the guise of the Seven Dwarfs-Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey-roles assigned to us 75 years ago by bankers who thought our business model was a cute experiment at best, forever relegated to the underserved.

Had credit unions represented themselves faithfully months ago when the Durbin Amendment first raised its head, we would have recognized, even sympathized with the underlying good intentions here. Mom and Pop are fellow Little Guys, and not so dopey as we might think-perhaps even future business members and MBL legislation supporters. Having lifted our heads that high, we would have then cooperated-that unique concept credit unions claim to hold so dear-by helping devise a workable solution that honestly and openly benefited all parties. And no longer looking like an ordinary Little Guy, we would have become that extraordinary fellow that rises above himself to play the role of Prince, awakening the slumbering innocence of Snow White, that American public who doesn't have a clue what this is all about. And having gone that far, we might have then educated America that credit unions are not just for Old Little Guys who think in old ways and desire the same, old little results.

Michael Dillon, VP Marketing
South Division CU, Evergreen Park, Ill.