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Forget Changing CU's Name: What About Your Own?

If you follow the National Basketball Association at all, you know that it now has World Peace. Ironic, actually, given that it wasted most of the summer and the season was delayed as it attempted to reach labor peace.

If you don't follow the NBA (which is hard to believe, given that its season is approximately 51 weeks long), this is the league where players say they have no choice but to leave $10-million-a-year deals in favor of $12-million-a-year deals because they have a "family to feed," where there is an unwritten rule at arenas that not a single second is to pass without earsplitting noise of some kind blaring away, and where buying tickets for the family means tapping that home equity line of credit.

But back to World Peace. In this case, it's Metta World Peace, which is the new name of the Los Angeles Laker formerly known as Ron Artest. Metta is a Buddhist term meaning "loving kindness," and there's a healthy dose of irony here, too, as Mr. Artest has never been known for love, kindness or peace in a career that included going into the stands after fans. He said he had his name legally changed, however, because he does indeed wish to promote world peace.

On To Something Here
I think Mr. World Peace is on to something, and that credit union CEOs just might want to borrow this strategy for their own ends. Yes, I'd certainly be the first to agree, the leaders of America's credit unions aren't always the first to jump onto a trend, but the opportunities here may just be too good for even the stodgiest of execs to pass.

Imagine, for instance, you've read all the RFPs and are now down to the gritty part of nitty gritty negotiations with a vendor about a completely new core solution. You're not sure if that salesman is really giving you his "best price," despite his claims. "This is our final offer," he might say to you if, for instance, your name is Jane Smith. But if he's looking across the deskplate where the name above "CEO" is "Metta Wanna Shootfirst," well, you just might hear, "On the other hand, Ms. Shootfirst, I think we actually might have a final, final offer."

Or consider that league annual meeting. The NCUA Regional Director has just finished his generic, canned remarks from the stage and is now accepting questions. You step to the microphone and say, "I'm Joe Jones, president of the Local Folks CU, and I'd like to know how long these NCUA assessments are going to go on?" Hey, nothing wrong with the question, but the NCUA RD was likely expecting it so he delivers up a serving of vanilla boilerplate in response.

Now imagine that scenario a bit differently: "Yeah, I'm the president of Local Folks Credit Union, and I want to know what's going on with these assessments, or my name's not Metta Angry Stormthestage!"

Now you're getting some attention!

Or what about the big show, CUNA's GAC? That influential member of the House Finance Committee has finished up and has literally interpreted the Q&A to mean he needs to take just one question. Who do credit unions want to pose that query about MBL legislation; nice ole Larry Whatshisname, or Metta Gotta Greatbigpac? I think we all know who's going to get the microphone handed to him.

CEOs and managers certainly don't need to use such big stage opportunities as reason to legally change their names. There are plenty of arguments around the CU's offices that support considering Metta Wants ROA, Metta Not Givingoutraises, and Metta Counting Downthedays.

Still not buying into any of the reasons above for filing the paperwork at the courthouse for a name change? Perhaps you should consider Metta Physical.

• I received a fair amount of mail in response to a column I wrote in the Jan. 9 issue about credit unions that held their last annual meetings in 2011 and have now headed off to that great lobby in the sky. But the opinions were pretty evenly divided over whether the demise of what has become several credit unions a week is good news reflective of market forces at work, or bad (or even sad) news reflective of small and medium-size CUs that didn't have to merge or be liquidated.

The former argument is pretty clear. The marketplace has changed, communities and industries have evolved, new competitors have emerged and those that didn't respond well or refused to respond at all got kicked to capitalism's curb.

The latter argument, that many of these mergers and liquidations really aren't necessary, drove the more spirited letter-writers to their keyboards. One person who's currently an exec with a fairly large CU shared his story about chairing a $15-million CU where the board had decided it had to merge. Saying he felt almost guilty that he was "killing" the credit union, he called a second vote, and just one other board member joined him in voting against the merger plan. It was a sad, sad meeting with little to be proud of, he recalled.

An Accidental Living Will
Two other people opined that all the talk about stale and aging boards, those that decline to ever bring in new volunteers, new management or new blood, is manifested in these mergers. Those boards simply get "tired," one person suggested, and rather than finding new energy instead opt for what is basically a self-fulfilling living will. Your opinions are welcome, too.

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

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