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Zopa withdraws from U.S. marketplace

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LONDON (10/13/08)--Peer-to-peer lender Zopa has pulled out of the U.S. marketplace, the lender announced on its website Thursday. Six credit unions had partnered with the online lending initiative last year. “The U.S. has been adversely affected in a way that just couldn’t have been predicted when we launched in the U.S.,” Zopa said on its blog. “[It] is no way the fault of our partners.” Zopa’s U.S. customer deposit accounts are insured by the National Credit Union Administration up to $250,000, and servicing of those accounts and loans will be assumed by the credit unions within 90 days, Zopa said. The six credit unions that partnered with Zopa include:
* Addison Avenue FCU, Palo Alto, Calif.; * Affinity Plus FCU, St. Paul, Minn.; * FirstTech CU, Beaverton, Ore.; * FORUM CU, Indianapolis; * Provident CU, Redwood City, Calif.; and * USA FCU, San Diego.

Minnesota CU Network hosts shared branching forum

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OAKDALE, Minn. (10/13/08)--The Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) hosted its first Shared Branching Forum Oct. 7 in an effort to enhance knowledge and encourage participation in shared branching. More than 60 individuals representing 29 credit unions attended. MnCUN Executive Vice President Peter Skaalen kicked off the session by providing an overview of shared branching, a summary of options available, and an update on recent developments. He discussed the advantages of shared branching, including increased member convenience and immediate access to the 26 outlets located in Minnesota and more than 3,400 service centers throughout the country. “Not only does shared branching offer tremendous member convenience that would be impossible for a credit union to match on its own by adding branch offices, it can also be a key component in disaster recovery plans,” Skaalen said. The forum featured a panel discussion of current users, including:
* Carla Hansen, TopLine FCU, Maple Grove; * Ruth Ann Horns, City-County FCU, Brooklyn Center; * Barb Jackson, the Shared Service Center, Duluth; * Gail Krall, Minnesota Power Employees CU, Duluth; * Russ Plunkett, Postal CU, Woodbury; and * Bill Raker, US Federal CU, Burnsville.
Panelists fielded questions on their experience with shared branching. The concept of shared branching is terrific, especially for small credit unions, because it provides immediate account access members at so many branches around the state and around the country, Raker said. The session concluded with an in-depth review of operational requirements, rules and policies. “Session participants were engaged and inquisitive about shared branching and provided positive feedback about this important member service,” Skaalen said. “We look forward to growing the number of outlets in Minnesota and providing increased convenience to credit union members.”

State CU leagues promote safety and soundness

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MADISON, Wis. (10/13/08)--Several state credit union leagues are continuing to spread the message to credit union members and the media about credit unions’ safety and soundness in uncertain economic times. The Maine Credit Union League has had a significant amount of media opportunities responding to questions and concerns arising from the current financial crisis going on nationally and the uncertainty that the crisis has created. In a recent past week, the league’s outreach efforts to educate, inform and respond to the media on federal savings insurance and the availability of liquidity has resulted in unprecedented media coverage in a seven-day period, the league said. During that time, the league has been a part of a total of 83 stories about Maine’s credit unions that have appeared in various forms of media outlets. “Our approach has been to be proactive in our media outreach efforts and this has proven to be an effective strategy resulting in positive media coverage for Maine’s credit unions. We have focused our messages on educating consumers on the fact that every Maine credit union is federally-insured as well as reinforcing the message that Maine credit unions have plenty of liquidity and that credit is available and lending remains strong,” said John Murphy, president of the Maine Credit Union League. “We continue to be sought out by media outlets looking for answers and perspective on what is happening in Maine, and our ability to provide information helpful to consumers has made us a valuable resource during this period,” noted the league's Governmental and Public Affairs Manager Jon Paradise. Borrowing on the theme of a print ad created by the Credit Union National Association, the Association of Vermont Credit Unions (AVCU) began a newspaper advertising campaign last week to inform Vermonters that credit union deposit insurance limits have been raised to $250,000 as a result of the passage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (Newslines Express Oct. 10). “Vermont credit unions have always been a safe place for money and they offer a full range of modern financial services,” the ad stated. It explained that Vermont credit unions haven’t made the same types of risky investments and loans that have harmed other institutions. The ad statement, “Today, as they always have, Vermont’s credit unions continue to make responsible loans to 280,000 members,” further drives that message home. The ad’s copy is completed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) share insurance sign, AVCU logo, and an action message directing readers to the AVCU website to learn more about share insurance and how they can find a credit union to which they can belong. The ad was placed in a number of the state’s daily newspapers and appeared on multiple days. It also appears on a complimentary basis in weekly publications related to the paid placements in the dailies. After the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association’s board of directors approved a special ad campaign to spread the message of credit union safety through Pennsylvania, staff quickly went to work preparing scripts and developing media schedules. A series of radio spots, featuring Jim McCormack, association president/CEO, were taped last week (Life is a Highway Oct. 8). The radio commercials began airing Thursday as part of the three-week intensive campaign to inform consumers that credit unions are safe and sound; NCUA share insurance coverage is backed by the full faith of the U.S. Government--the same as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation; and that non-members can visit iBelong.org to find a credit union to join. The North Carolina Credit Union League, in its Oct. 6 CU Communicator newsletter produced by the leagues communications department, provided tips on boosting a credit union’s safety and soundness message in search engine results from Christopher Morris, web manager for CUNA Councils in Madison, Wis. It is important for credit unions to come up with list of key words and to use those keywords wisely. “If you have access to good website statistics for your site, you can usually get a listing of keywords that visitors use to get to your site via search engines,” Morris wrote. “There might be some good information in there to add to your listing.” For more information on Morris’ tips, use the link.

Auto loan delinquencies fewer at CUs

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DETROIT (10/13/08)--Auto loan delinquencies are rising, but credit unions aren’t being hit as hard as other lenders. According to a Dow Jones story published Oct. 6, auto lenders have experienced a 9% increase in loans 30 days past due and an 11% increase in loans 60 days past due in the second quarter, compared with the same time period last year. About $25 billion in auto loans are past due, according to research by Experian. Credit unions are seeing an increase in auto delinquency rates, but their rates are not rising as fast as other lenders, Steve Rick, Credit Union National Association senior economist, told News Now. There are many economic headwinds that are placing strain on household budgets--which are causing them to become delinquent on auto loans, according to Rick. “First, rising energy and food prices are reducing funds available for debt service and other purchases. Second, rising unemployment, falling commissions and bonuses and slowing wage growth is reducing incomes for millions of Americans,” he said. “Third, rising interest rates and tighter loan underwriting standards have reduced the ability to refinance high rate debt.”

International CU Week kicks off today

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MADISON, Wis. (10/13/08)--International Credit Union Week starts today, with International Credit Union Day (ICU Day) on Thursday--and credit unions nationwide are preparing to celebrate. ICU Day has been celebrated each year on the third Thursday of October since 1948. The event honors those who have contributed to the credit union movement. This year’s theme is “It Belongs to Me.” ICU Day activities include:
* The Maryland and District of Columbia Credit Union Association will host a reception on Thursday at Credit Union House in Washington, D.C. Credit unions can sponsor the event to fund international projects; * Fremont (Ohio) FCU will host a Shred for Safety event on Thursday. It also will distribute information on identity theft (PortClinton NewsHerald Oct. 3); * Purdue Employees FCU, West Lafayette, Ind., will celebrate with a youth coloring contest and a “What a credit union means to me” essay contest for high school students; * United Educational CU, Battle Creek, Mich., will host a Financial Survival Fair this week. The fair will offer resources to help consumers trim grocery bills, reduce energy consumption, balance budgets, and preserve homeownership (BattleCreekEnquirer.com Oct. 6); * The Michigan Credit Union League’s state political action committee will host an online auction this week and a Credit Union Week Casual Day program. Last year, credit unions raised more than $8,000 by hosting casual days (Michigan Monitor Oct. 6); * The Credit Union Association of Oregon has bought advertising in local newspapers this week, including the Lebanon Express, Lincoln City News, Seaside Herald, Portland Business Journal, Grants Pass Daily Courier, Albany Democrat/Corvallis Gazette, Bend Bulletin, East Oregonian, Register Guard, Klamath Falls Herald, Medford Mail, Roseburg News, Statesman Journal, and the Oregonian; * Hundreds of the California Credit Union League’s credit unions received recognition from local elected officials at ceremonies throughout California and Nevada. Ceremonies will continue to take place throughout the month of October. “Citizens and businesses are facing unprecedented financial challenges, and credit unions are vital to helping local communities in providing services to their members. We are honored that our credit unions have been recognized by local government for all the hard work and services they provide within their communities,” said Bill Cheney, president/CEO of the California and Nevada Credit Union League. Counties honored International Credit Union Day with resolutions and proclamation letters which highlight the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.”

MECU opens first student-run CU in Baltimore

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BALTIMORE (10/13/08)--Municipal Employees Credit Union of Baltimore (MECU), in partnership with the National Academy Foundation High School (NAF)--Baltimore, opened the first student-run credit union in Baltimore Wednesday.
Click to view larger imageParticipating in the ribbon cutting ceremony at Municipal Employees CU of Baltimore’s (MECU) new student-run branch were, from left: Bert J. Hash Jr., president/CEO, MECU; Brian Morris, chair, Baltimore City School Board; Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, president, Baltimore City Council; Darius Johnson, student/MECU teller; Joan Pratt, Baltimore city comptroller; Karen Ndour, principal, National Academy Foundation (NAF), Baltimore; Herman Williams Jr., chair, MECU board of directors; Andres Alonso, CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools; John Sarbanes, U.S. Rep. (D-3rd District); and Jeff Homes, co-chair, NAF board of directors. (Photo provided by Municipal Employees CU of Baltimore)
The MECU branch is the first of its kind in a Baltimore public school. Students can deposit and withdraw funds three weekday mornings from the MECU branch in the lobby of Digital Harbor High School, in which NAF-Baltimore is located. Students from NAF-Baltimore’s Academy of Finance, who will run the MECU branch, took the same two-week training course that all MECU tellers take. MECU Chairman of the Board Herman Williams Jr., and President/CEO Bert J. Hash Jr. were joined by Dr. Andres Alonso, CEO of the Baltimore City Public School System, U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd District), NAF-Baltimore Principal Karen Ndour and more than 200 students, and civic and business leaders for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at NAF-Baltimore. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Alonso was the first person to open an account at the branch. He was followed by Baltimore City Comptroller, Joan Pratt, making a deposit into her existing MECU account. “We are excited to be opening MECU’s first student-run branch at the National Academy Foundation High School--Baltimore,” Hash said. “Students are so enthusiastic about this project and are committed to doing an excellent job, that I see a very strong future for the credit union movement with these young people among its leaders.” “This is an incredibly poignant opportunity for students to learn about the effective management of personal finances,” Ndour said. “NAF-Baltimore provides unique experiences to prepare students for the future; with the opening of the MECU branch, we will equip them with life skills that will be of great value long after graduation.” NAF-Baltimore prepares students for careers in hospitality and tourism, finance, and information technology through work-based learning experiences made possible by partnerships with industry leaders and local businesses like MECU. The school’s curriculum emphasizes both academic excellence and career training with traditional classroom instruction, internships and job shadowing. In 2008, the school achieved a 100% graduation rate and 100% of graduating seniors were accepted to at least one college or trade/technical school.

WOCCUs first Pacific Congress well-attended

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NADI, Fiji (10/13/08)--From developing credit union bylaws to conducting a successful credit union meeting, operational basics dominated the agenda for the inaugural Pacific Credit Union Technical Congress in Fiji, co-sponsored by World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU), the Fiji Savings and Credit Union League (FSCUL) and Credit Union Foundation Australia (CUFA). Nearly 200 participants from nine countries gathered for the week-long educational event that concluded Oct. 3. The purpose of the congress--the first comprehensive meeting of its kind for the Pacific region--was to bring together credit union
Mark Cifuentes, World Council of Credit Union’s senior vice president of technical services (center), gives a hands-on presentation at the Pacific Credit Union Technical Congress in Fiji. (Photo provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
movements, their leagues, federations and government regulators from developing and developed nations in the Pacific region to share information and learn from each other. Attendees included credit union volunteers and professionals from Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, the U.S. and Vanuatu. The high turnout made the Pacific Congress one of the most successful in WOCCU's series of regional educational sessions, according to Mark Cifuentes, WOCCU's senior vice president of technical services. Topics on the agenda, which also included defining board member authority and responsibility, financial management strategies and evaluating policies and procedures, filled a vital need for attendees, he added. “While exploring the unique challenges of the Pacific credit union movement, participants also benefited from a return to the basics of cooperative and financial principles,” Cifuentes said. “It was important to provide these emerging institutions with a solid foundation so that they can acquire the necessary skills to efficiently serve the needs of their members.” In addition to 156 people attending the congress, 36 attendees participated in the first year of WOCCU's Manager Certification Program, an intensive two-year course for credit union managers and aspiring managers. Certification program students study accounting basics, financial management and other topics specific to credit union operations. This year's participants are required to attend the second year of the program in order to complete certification requirements. Next year's certification program will be held in conjunction with the 2009 Pacific Credit Union Technical Congress. “Other participants of the congress would agree with me that the event was a great success,” said Tom Ha'aute, credit union services manager for Central Bank of Solomon Islands. “We've broken the ice and have passed a milestone for the whole movement.” Subsequent congresses and certification programs will be held in October in Banjul and Gambia, and in November in Bucharest, Romania. For more information use the link or contact Nicole Bice at nbice@woccu.org .