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New postage rates now in effect

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WASHINGTON (1/24/12)--Just about everybody--including credit unions--will pay more this year for mailing letters and packages through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). New postage rates for mailing items took effect Sunday, with a single ounce letter increasing one cent to 45 cents, the first increase in this category since May 2009.

Overall, the average rate increase for all market-dominant services, including First Class Mail and Periodical rates, is 2.133%, an increase tied to the price of inflation.  Standard Class Mail rose 2.04% and rates for market-dominant Package Services rose 2.115%.

Regulators approved the price hikes in November. However, although the price hikes fall under USPS's annual inflation-linked price cap,  USPS continues to seek regulators' approval  to increase rates even higher  to help compensate for the recession years, said Post & Parcel (Jan. 23).

The changes include:

  • Letters (one ounce)--one cent increase to 45 cents;
  • Letters additional ounces--unchanged at 20 cents;
  • Postcards--three-cent hike to 32 cents;
  • Letters to Canada or Mexico (one ounce)--five-cent increase to 85 cents;
  • Letters to other international destinations--seven-cent increase to $1.05.
Price increases for single-piece mail are greater than for presorted mail. In First Class Mail, single-piece letters and card rates rose by 2.468%, while presort letters and card rates rose 1.58%.

In Standard Mail, letters increased 1.867% while parcels rose 2.86% and high density flats and parcels rose 2.87%.

The largest rate hikes occurred for First Class Mail Parcels, which rose 10.8% and reflected the transfer of much of that category to Commercial Plus and Commercial Base parcels. Also. international First Class Mail rates increased by 4.68%.

The postal service is also implementing an incentive by expanding its lightest weight step for presorted First Class Mail from one to two ounces, meaning the second ounce is sent for free. USPS said it hopes the incentive will encourage mailers to stay with First Class Mail as a communication channel, allowing extra pages with their mailings for no extra charge.

All new pricing is available at the USPS link.

Help schools on National Fin. Capability Challenge

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WASHINGTON and MADISON, Wis. (1/24/12)--Credit unions have the tools to assist high schools in preparing for the National Financial Capability Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Education from March 12 to April 13.

The challenge is being announced because students today face a fast-paced, dynamic economy and need a good financial education to succeed, said the Treasury Department. The challenge is intended for teachers to administer in high school classrooms equipped with computers. It  is a free, online series of financial questions for high school students to test their knowledge of earning, spending, saving, borrowing, risk protection and more.

Credit unions will see more information about how to work with high school educators participating in the project from the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) youth services. CUNA's youth products provide tools to improve the financial capability of youth as well as of their families.

Googolplex began touting the challenge in its December monthly subscriber e-mail, and subscribers' January newsletter will explain how easy it is for credit unions to pair with high schools. Next week, CUNA's Youth Week e-News will share some sample questions and explain that a credit union can work with a teacher to deliver the curriculum before the students take the challenge in class. The challenge also will likely be mentioned in the financial literacy chapter of CUNA's upcoming Environmental Scan (E-Scan).

According to the Treasury announcement, the challenge is:

  • Quick. It takes about 30 minutes to administer the challenge online but lessons students will learn in preparing for it will last a lifetime.
  • Easy.  Comprehensive lesson plans and sample questions are available in the online Educator Toolkit to assist preparing students for the challenge.
  • Rewarding. Educators and top-scoring students in each school will earn personalized award certificates and states with the highest participation will be recognized.
Also, any high school educator--even those not teach math, business or personal finance--can register their students to participate. 

The website also provides tools to help spread the word about the challenge, including:

  • Content to e-mail other educators;
  • A flier with details to attach to the e-mail or post in a teacher's lounge;
  • Content to submit for publication in the school district's newsletter; and
  • Content to post on websites, blogs and other online sites.
Meanwhile, credit unions can several youth financial education sources from CUNA at the resource links.

CU Walgreens sign pact for surcharge-free ATMs

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DOWNEY, Calif. (1/24/12)--Financial Partners CU (FPCU) in Downey, Calif., said it has introduced several new technological features and services to better serve its members, including a recently signed agreement to provide surcharge-free ATM access at all Walgreens in California.

The $732 million asset credit union also launched a new website, upgraded ATMs, and presented a mobile capture option that allows deposits via cell phones.

The credit union signed a two-year agreement with Walgreens that allows surcharge-free ATM access for its members at all Walgreens stores statewide.

This will "provide more than 500 additional free ATMs statewide for our members through this agreement," FPCU President/CEO Nader Moghaddam said. "This, along with our other recent technological additions, is part of our delivering on our promise to provide more convenience for our members, and to help them save money and time."

The credit union on Dec. 5 launched its new website, www.FPCU.org.

"Now finding the products and services our members are looking for is easy and quick," Moghaddam said. "All it takes is one click to get to any product information in any category. The new site also provides additional information and comparison tools to help members make better financial decisions."

The credit union upgraded ATMs to provide easier navigation and improved visibility for faster transactions. The ATMs come equipped with 17-inch non-glare touchscreens and more secure card readers. Members no longer need envelopes to deposit checks or money, and they can receive printed images of checks and mini-statements listing their last 10 transactions.

Members also can deposit checks through their cellphones using a special FPCU mobile app. Users can snap a photo of their check, and the app verifies that the check is endorsed and the deposit is made. Members can deposit up to 20 checks per day.

Iowa CUs to convene for legreg conference

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DES MOINES, Iowa (1/24/12)--The Iowa Credit Union League (ICUL) will hold its annual Legislative & Regulatory Issues Conference Feb. 14-15 in Des Moines.

More than 100 Iowa credit union representatives are expected to attend to learn more about the legislative and regulatory issues affecting the credit union industry.

CNN political analyst Paul Begala will be the keynote speaker. With an eye to the 2012 presidential election, Begala will dissect the Republican race for a presidential nominee, discuss Congress and the Obama administration, and examine whether a divided U.S. House and Senate will help or hinder the efforts of both political parties as they look to grow their influence over the electorate ahead of the 2012 elections.

Other invited speakers include U.S. Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa); Iowa  Gov. Terry Branstad; Bill Cheney, president/CEO of the Credit Union National Association; and JoAnn Johnson, superintendent of the Iowa Division of Credit Unions.

CU CEOs cite sales marketing as No. 1 priority for 2012

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AUSTIN, Texas (1/24/12)--Credit union CEOs listed improving sales and marketing as their top priority in a survey conducted by Abound Resources. About 57% of 450 CEOs surveyed named improved sales and marketing as their No. 1 priority.

Abound Resources is a CUNA Strategic Services provider.

Almost half (45%) indicated that expanding online presence and adding electronic banking channels is a high priority. "Credit union CEOs are recognizing that they need to step up their efforts to gain market share and demonstrate state-of-the-art delivery channel technology to compete in today's increasingly electronic and mobile financial services environment," said Brad Smith, Abound Resources president/CEO.

Smith will present the highlights of the survey in a free webinar today at 2 p.m. CT. To register, use the link. A complimentary white paper analyzing the complete survey results also is available.

The weak economy/loan demand was cited by 70% of CEOs as their top concern for 2012. About 53% said continued regulatory demands is a major concern. About 45% were concerned with the interest-rate environment.

Abound Resources also polled chief operating officers, chief information officers and chief financial officers about their technology concerns and project plans.

The executives said they plan to extract more value from existing technology purchases and vendor relationships, with 68% naming optimization as their top concern for 2012. They also are concerned about delivering quality support to users, information security and compliance, and not having enough resources to complete projects. Three-quarters (73%) of respondents reported that their technology spending would remain flat or only slightly elevated, while 15% noted that spending would increase significantly.

Florida subcommittee rejects CU municipal deposits bill

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (1/24/12)--The importance of grassroots advocacy hit home for Florida credit unions when they were defeated by one vote in a state House subcommittee that rejected a bill that would have allowed credit unions to accept municipal deposits.

The House Insurance and Banking subcommittee voted down, 7 to 8,  House Bill 669, which was introduced by state Rep. Jason Brodheur (R-Sanford). It would have allowed qualified public depositories to include credit unions, thus allowing municipalities a choice of where to do business.

Banks argued against the bill, saying that credit union should not serve local government because they "don't pay taxes," said League of Southeastern Credit Unions (LSCU) President/CEO Patrick La Pine in an editorial Saturday in the Florida Times Union. "Now banks will continue to enjoy a virtual monopoly," he said.

In the editorial La Pine noted that credit unions do pay tangible personal property taxes, real property taxes and employment taxes, and that their income tax exemption lies in their nonprofit structure--cooperative ownership and volunteer leadership--not because of their size or the type of services they provide.

Florida has 40 Subchapter S banks that, like credit unions, receive an exemption from corporate income taxes, "yet are allowed to serve the state as qualified public depositories," he added. For the full editorial, use the link.

What's next?  "The biggest step is to have our credit unions engage our lawmakers more so that they can educate them on the differences between a credit union and a bank, and why credit unions, despite their tax exemption, would be proper institutions to serve the state as qualified public depositories," La Pine told News Now.

"We were certainly out-hustled by the banks when it came to grassroots advocacy on this issue, and we need to do a better job of getting our message to lawmakers from the people in the field," he added.

"The vote illustrates the importance of grassroots advocacy and getting the credit union message to lawmakers," said La Pine. "Our lobbyists can do so much and did, as evidenced by having a hearing, having the support of the majority and minority offices, getting the support of the League of Cities, and having such a close vote. By having our advocates out there, it very well could have flipped one vote, and we'd be looking at an 8-7 victory as opposed to a 7-8 defeat."

An amendment, offered by state Rep. John Wood (R-Haines City), would have required any credit union accepting public deposits to waive its tax exemption. The league and Florida Commerce CU General Counsel Andy Price, who testified on behalf of credit unions for the public deposits bill, succeeded in defeating that amendment. However, "that too was a close 7-8 vote," said La Pine.

The only way to introduce a bill in Florida is to have a member of the legislature sponsor the bill. It would need to be passed identically through both chambers. Although there are ways to amend legislation throughout the process, once a bill is introduced, heard in committee, and fails, that subject is no longer available to be heard as an amendment, said the league.

Voting for the bill were: Reps Mack Bernard (D-West Palm Beach), Rachel Burgin (R-Riverview), Janet Cruz (D-Tampa); Bill Hager (R-Boca Raton), Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola), Wood, and Ritch Workman (R-Melbourne).

Voting against it were: Reps. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow), John Boyd (R-Bradenton), Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola); Daniel Davis (R-Jacksonville), Evan Jenne (D-Fort Lauderdale), John Patrick Julien (D-North Miami Beach), Subcommittee Chairman Bryan Nelson (R-Apopka), and Richard Steinberg (D-Miami Beach).

Report Wisconsin CUs saved members 201M

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PEWAUKEE, Wis. (1/24/12)--Wisconsin credit unions saved 2.2 million state consumers $201 million through competitive rates on savings and loans and lower and fewer fees for financial services, according to the REAL Solutions Scorecard for Wisconsin Credit Unions, a report by the Wisconsin Credit Union League, released Monday.

Credit union members saved more than $128 million on loans, earned in excess of $36.6 million on savings products and paid $36.5 million fewer fees than if they had used a for-profit bank, the league report said. Most credit unions still offer free checking, a member of any credit union can save nearly $1,000 on a five-year new-car loan, and the average household saves $164 annually by using their credit union's services, the report added.

The report also cited additional value from credit unions that provide services such as nearly 30,000 hours of free financial counseling that have prevented home foreclosures and improved borrowers' creditworthiness, free tax preparation for low-income filers, outreach to new Americans, and financial education within schools. Those services are part of a voluntary effort by credit unions called REAL Solutions to help families and small businesses in ways that for-profit financial institutions typically won't offer, said the league. 

Since the start of the recession in 2007, Wisconsin credit unions increased their lending to small businesses 51.8% to compensate for a lack of available business credit from banks. About $44 million of the savings on financial product use accrued to lower-income consumers. Credit unions operated 40% of all the financial institution branches in low-income areas.

Most credit unions in the state offered loans of $500 or less at modest interest rates--an alternative to costly payday loans, the league said. Credit unions also outperformed non-credit union lenders by approving 65.2% of home loans for low-income borrowers and 71.1% of home loans for minority borrowers, compared to a 56.6% and 57.2% approval rate by other lenders, respectively.

The state's credit unions also run 97 branches inside schools to teach young people to save, and students statewide stashed $3 million in their in-school accounts. Credit unions delivered 5,460 presentations to 34,104 consumers to improve their financial savvy, sponsored Wisconsin teachers to attend summer workshops that help them improve financial lessons offered in classrooms, and purchased 49,700 copies of a personal finance magazine to help 405 teachers at 350 high schools teach money management in line with state teaching standards, said the report.

Also, Wisconsin credit unions engaged nearly 15,000 students in financial decision-making through reality fairs and the online game Money Mission, supported close to 3,000 charities, granted $114,150 in scholarships and delivered 60,000 hours of online training to 5,476 employees from credit unions and Wisconsin firms to encourage investing, the league said.

WOCCUs Bierecki named to European Council

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SOPOT, Poland (1/24/12)--Grzegorz Bierecki, president/CEO of the National Association of Cooperative Savings & Credit Unions (NACSCU), Poland's credit union trade association and a World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) member, was named to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The council is Europe's oldest international parliamentary group and precursor to the European Union. As one of the council's two statutory organs, PACE investigates, recommends and advises European policy development.

Bierecki, who serves as WOCCU's first vice chair, was elected senator in Poland's parliament last year. It was Bierecki's first election to public office.

"The appointment to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe could not come in a more timely fashion," Bierecki said. "While the financial markets still are in turmoil and the world has not yet recovered from the deep crisis, more challenges are ahead for credit unions. There has to be a non-banking voice present in the European forum adding the human dimension to finance."

Bierecki's new roles as senator and one of Poland's 12 representatives to PACE are not considered full-time obligations. He will continue to serve in his capacities with NACSCU and WOCCU.

Bierecki was a former staff member of Lech Wałęsa's Solidarity party, which helped reestablish Poland's credit union movement in partnership with WOCCU in 1989. The Polish movement has since grown to one of the world's most successful systems. Poland's 59 credit unions, operating under a unified marketing brand from a central back-office platform, support 1,852 branches and serve 2.2 million members nationwide.

Bierecki's election and new PACE appointment have increased credit unions' public profile in both Poland and throughout Europe, according to WOCCU President/CEO Brian Branch.

"Grzegorz Bierecki's appointment to PACE gives European credit unions a strong voice beyond Poland's borders," said Branch, who last year led an engagement program of U.S. credit union league and association executives to NACSCU headquarters to study the Polish credit union system. "As the European credit union movement continues to grow, it can only benefit from increased support at the international parliamentary level."

To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of Poland's credit unions, World Council will hold its 2012 World Credit Union Conference, July 15–18, in Gdańsk, Poland.

CU System briefs (01/23/2012)

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CU System briefs

  • MADISON, Wis. (1/24/12)--People throughout Wisconsin partnered with Madison, Wis.-based Heartland CU to raise more than $25,000 in Heartland's Give Local challenge. The credit union offered a 25% increase for every donation to six local non-profits, up to $1,000 per charity. As the campaign progressed, Heartland raised the bar and increased the match to 50%. It also donated every time someone chose to "Like" Heartland's Facebook pages, which raised another $1,500. The effort helped these local causes:  Gio's Garden, which provides respite to families with special-needs children; Center for Families, which supports Dane County families; Community Groundworks, which connects people to nature and local food at Troy Gardens; InHealth Clinic, which provides free health care for uninsured people; Madison Dental Initiative, which offers free dental care to homeless families and individuals; and Southwest Tech, which supports students with a food pantry, gas cards and scholarships. Shown here are, from left, Robin Marohn, Heartland vice president of marketing/business development, and Lisa Bell of Madison Dental Initiative.  (Photo provided by Heartland CU) …
  • * TROY, N.Y. (1/24/12)--CAP COM FCU donated $30,000 to the Seton Health Foundation Wednesday in support of a prescription drug assistance program for low-income families in the Albany, N.Y., capital region.  The gift--the credit union's second donation to the cause--will support the Rensselaer Cares Prescription Assistance Program, which filled nearly 4,000 prescriptions for uninsured and underinsured people during 2011.   The credit union and its charitable arm, the CAP COM Cares Foundation, made a similar $30,000 contribution in 2009.  The program helps patients get free or low-cost medication directly from pharmaceutical companies. In 2011, the program enrolled 1,508 new patients and helped them get 3,928 prescriptions with a retail value of more than $2.1 million. Pictured, from left are:   Norman Dascher, executive vice president, Acute Care, and CEO, Samaritan and St. Mary's Hospitals; Paula A. Stopera, president/CEO, CAP COM FCU; and Michael Danieli, director, Seton Health Foundation. (Photo provided by CAP COM FCU) …
  • LANSING, Mich. (1/24/12)--MCUL & Affiliates has selected Steven Schwartz to serve in a newly created position of chief financial officer, announced the Michigan Credit Union League (Michigan Monitor Jan. 23). Schwartz has spent a decade as vice president of finance for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest chambers of commerce in the nation. There he oversaw the finances of the organization's more than 20,000 members and affiliates as well as a for-profit subsidiary that administers programs to other chambers in the U.S., and a 501(c)3 nonprofit entity.   Earlier he was with Plymouth, Mich.-based Financial One where he provided niche accounting services to nonprofit businesses, and spent four years as an accountant with Deloitte & Touche …
  • MUSKEGO, Wis. (1/24/12)--Corporate Central CU, based in Muskego, Wis., has named Chris Felton as executive vice president, the corporate announced Monday. He will lead all areas focused on the member experience within the corporate, including: member service, correspondent services operations, business development, investment and loan sales, marketing and education, and online system access related to member interaction.  Felton also will be responsible for all existing service partner relationships and securing new partners to deliver innovative and cost-effective service for members.  He will help guide the strategic vision for the corporate by partnering with members to collaborate on initiatives and innovation. He has been with Corporate Central since 1990, when he became the first sales represenat6ive for what was then Wisconsin Corporate Central CU …