ST. LOUIS (1/10/08)--Gateway Metro CU, a state-chartered credit union since 1935, received approval for a federal charter from the National Credit Union Administration, the credit union announced. David Barton, president/CEO of Gateway Metro, attributed the switch to a new 2007 state law that restricts state-chartered credit unions from expanding beyond the counties contiguous to their main office. Prior to the passage last April of that field-of-membership law--SB 591--credit unions were unable to expand at all--due to a stream of lawsuits against FOM expansions filed by banks and a 2006 Circuit Court decision that ruled geographic-based state-chartered credit unions could not expand. When the law was passed, the Missouri Credit Union Association (MCUA) said the measure was the result of six months of negotiations between credit unions and the banking industry. Its purpose was to stop the field-of-membership lawsuits bankers had filed against credit union expansions since 2001 and to clarify "geographic area" in regards to field of membership. At the time, MCUA President/CEO Rosie Holub noted that the legislation will help credit unions move forward. "Although this compromise piece of legislation does not contain all the provisions we would have wished, it clearly provides an opportunity for credit unions to grow and provides a more stringent legal threshold to thwart lawsuits going forward." Barton considers the law as "pretty restrictive." "We have St. Louis County on one side and the Mississippi River on the other. We're already in St. Louis County, and not too many Mississippi River inhabitants are interested in joining our financial cooperative," Barton said. A federal charter, he says, would allow more flexibility to grow. Gateway Metro was Missouri's fastest-growing credit union from 1999 through 2004, says the credit union. It is the eighth-largest credit union in the state, with $180 million in assets and 24,000 members. Gateway's new name will be Gateway Metro FCU. Out of the 152 credit unions in the state, only 15 have federal charters.