Are mergers a good thing or a bad thing?

Like beauty, it's very much in the eye of the beholder.

On the cover of this issue, Credit Union Journal explores this very issue (see Can CUs Merge Their Way out of 'The Great Divide?' on page 1).

In 1969, credit unions hit their peak level with 24,000 charters in the U.S. In terms of the sheer number of institutions, it's been all downhill since then. But, as several sources told Credit Union Journal, that's not entirely a bad thing.

Credit unions may have hit their peak in terms of number of charters in 1969, but just about every other key statistic — assets, members, products and services offered — has gone up.

So, when, over the last 46 years, the credit union movement lost some 17,500 charters — what, exactly, did we really lose?

Perhaps the biggest loss is to the culture, the fabric of something once strongly and proudly referred to as a "movement" that is increasingly seen as an "industry." There are, of course, still many people who steadfastly refer to the "movement" — and those who don't are still just as likely to uphold all of the things that make credit unions different: democratically owned and operated, not-for-profit financial service providers that put members' needs first.

Credit Union Journal has long been reporting on the phenomenon we refer to as "The Great Divide" — the fact that the largest credit unions tend to have the most robust growth, while their smallest counterparts are, in many cases, seeing negative numbers. And as that divide not only continues but grows, consolidation continues, as well.

And it's not just the credit unions themselves that are "merger happy." The number of state leagues has been dwindling for some time, now, too. And there have always been credit union critics calling for consolidation in another vital arena as well: the regulatory arena. At both the state and federal level, some have called for credit unions to be regulated by the same agencies that regulate banks, rather than having their own separate regulator.

Credit Union Journal would like to hear from you. That's why that page 1 story has a headline with question mark. We're asking you: Are mergers a good thing or a bad thing? What do we lose when a credit union charter ceases to exist? What do we gain?

Go to www.cujournal.com and click on the link to this opinion piece or to the original story and scroll down to the comments section to add your two cents.

Same-Sex, Same Marketing?

In other news, when Florida issued the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples earlier this month, Credit Union Journal set out to see what sort of opportunity this might possible offer credit unions. Indeed, in local media reports, everyone from wedding planners to attorneys  were salivating at the brand new — and lucrative — market that was opening up as a result.

As one Florida divorce attorney reportedly said, it's only a matter of time before some of these same-sex marriages go south the same way some heterosexual marriages do and wind up in divorce court.

But before the divorce, there must be a wedding, and weddings can cost big bucks. As Credit Union Journal's cover story (see "Pitching Wedding-Related Products to Same-Sex Couples" on page 1) reported, same-sex couples are just as likely to be seeking loans to help finance their weddings as are heterosexual couples.

The debate, however, is whether credit unions should try to tailor the marketing on such loans specifically to target same-sex couples? Do same-sex couples want ad campaigns that are crafted just for them? Would they be just as likely to respond to marketing that is based on the more traditional bride and groom, rather than bride and bride or groom and groom? For that matter, would such marketing potentially alienate members who are against same-sex marriage?

Go to www.cujournal.com and click on this opinion piece or the original article and scroll down to the comments section to weigh in.

Editor in Chief Lisa Freeman can be reached at lisa.freeman@sourcemedia.com.