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CUs begin holiday activities

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MADISON, Wis. (11/23/09)--Credit unions nationwide are going above and beyond to help their communities prepare for Thanksgiving this year. Their activities range from donating hundreds of turkeys to helping save one town’s holiday celebration and parade. Service CU, Portsmouth, N.H., donated 50 turkeys to the Portsmouth Salvation Army on Thursday. The credit union’s Thursday donation brings the total number of turkeys the credit union has donated to communities near its branches to 625. Service CU also donated turkeys to its 16 branches on military bases in Germany (Seacoastonline.com Nov. 20). The credit union is planning two other holiday drives. Service has been collecting canned goods and nonperishable foods for the local food bank, and will offer a Wish Tree event where members can buy a gift for a child in need, the newspaper said. Andrews FCU, Suitland, M.D., partnered with Operation Best Wishes to sponsor free holiday voice messages for families of deployed service members. At the event, the Operation team set up a mobile webcast unit to record greetings from families and friends. Seventy-seven people taped messages for their loved ones during the event. Members Cooperative CU, Cloquet, Minn., helped to save Cloquet’s traditional “Home for the Holidays” event, which was in danger of being cancelled. Robbie Thompson, vice president and general counsel at Members Cooperative, thought it was “terrible” that the town’s celebration might go away. He asked the credit union if he could use his company time to volunteer for the event, and asked credit union President Tammy Heikkinen if Members Cooperative would be one of the event’s sponsors. She agreed to both requests (Duluth News-Tribune/Cloquet Pine Journal Nov. 3). The credit union pledged $1,000 for the event, which will take place Saturday. The celebration will offer horse-drawn trolley rides, a bonfire, parade, and food collection to help a local food bank. Virginia CU employees in Richmond recently contributed half of their workday to help at Central Virginia Foodbank. The employees sorted canned goods, pasta, rice and perishable foods like fruit and bread. Virginia food pantries and soup kitchens rely on the food bank as a source for the items they distribute. Virginia CU also donated $3,375 to the bank through employee fundraising efforts, an amount that was matched by the credit union. A group of more than 40 volunteers from Redwood CU, Santa Rosa, Calif., helped out at a Harvest for the Hungry gardens in Santa Rosa. Employees weeded, mulched, piled compost, raked, sowed, planted and performed other tasks to help the nonprofit organization, which grows and distributes about 10,000 pounds of organic fresh produce, herbs and flowers to shelters and food banks in need.

IWalletpopI CUs a good option for fee-weary consumers

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MADISON, Wis. (11/23/09)--“Fee-weary consumers” looking for a respite from bank fees and charges should consider credit unions and small community banks, according to a Friday column in WalletPop. The column, “How to find a small bank or credit union” by Martha C. White, said that many readers wrote in response to a previous column about sneaky bank practices that consumers should “ditch the big bailout-recipient banks in favor of small community banks or credit unions.” As a result, Walletpop talked to some professional finance advisers for their input on the matter. The article mentions the first step for consumers is to use the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) credit union locator tool to find a credit union their area that they can join. (See the link). “I think a partnership model is better than a corporate profit model when you're selling a service,” Kathleen Day, spokesperson at the Center for Responsible Lending, told Walletpop. “ … A business model mandating that profits be funneled back into the enterprise is, for many consumers, a big selling point,” White wrote. “Especially if you have a large nest egg you plan to keep in a savings account, it’s worth your while to seek out a bank or credit union that will give you a decent interest rate,” White concluded.

Romanian CUs note growth need for PR

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (11/23/09)--Romanian credit unions’ memberships have dramatically increased, leading to a need for better marketing and public relations, according to the North Carolina Credit Union League (NCCUL) and the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU). The two organizations visited Romania last week. Victor Miguel Corro, WOCCU senior manager for international partnerships, and Jeff Hardin, NCCUL director of communications, visited Romania Nov. 15-19. The trip, co-sponsored by the Romanian Federation of Credit Unions and WOCCU, is one of two visits that will assist the Romanian Federation and its credit unions as they continue to grow and build capacity. The week’s activities also were geared toward laying the groundwork for a partnership agreement between the Romanian credit unions and a league or credit union in the U.S. In March, WOCCU Executive Director Brian Branch and NCCUL President/CEO John Radebaugh will visit Romania and provide more information and administrative support to the Romanian credit unions and the federation. WOCCU has helped Romanian credit unions with training and policy guidance since the 1990s. It also helped them charter the federation five years ago. Since then, the federation and its 17 affiliated credit unions have grown dramatically in membership, assets and member trust. Called Casa de Ajutor Reciprocs--CARs or “Mutual Help Houses”--in Romania, credit unions operate as non-government organizations and lie outside the banking system. CARs offer savings accounts and small loans--usually made for terms of five years or fewer. Like their counterparts in the U.S., Romanian CARs are not subject to federal taxes. In multiple credit union visits conducted Nov. 17-18 by Corro and Hardin, Romanian staff pointed to training on marketing and public relations as key needs. For example, St. Gheorghe CAR advertises on radio and in local newspapers, but is looking to grow membership and build its brand. “We need for more people to understand how we are different from the other credit unions, and we need more credit unions outside the system to join the Federation,” said Romanian Federation CEO Florin Simion. Simion, Corro and Hardin visited St. Gheorghe Casa de Ajutor Recirpoc. While its members understood and appreciated the credit union difference, the staff said the message needs to be understood by a wider audience. Fokkus CAR in Targu Secuiesc also seeks marketing and public relations strategies to enhance its story. A local factory originally sponsored the credit union but the credit union later moved into its own building and changed its name. The factory later shut down. Fokkus has grown steadily in the past decade, and has nearly 3,000 members in a town of 20,000. When asked why the credit union had been so successful in building and keeping members, Manager Ildiko Croitoru replied, “They know us to be honest and that we will keep our word.” Members value this type of service since banks would often charge unnecessary fees to add to their profits, she added. Effective marketing and public relations training is needed to help the credit union grow, especially in its new branch location in a nearby village. Fokkus advertises in local newspapers and recently launched a web site, Croitoru said. The need for a more visible presence through marketing and public relations also extends to the Federation. To help the credit unions continue to grow and develop capacity, more affiliates need to be added and the credit unions need to lobby for legislative changes. “We haven’t hit critical mass yet to approach the government and get the changes we need,” Simion said. Hardin will file a report to the Federation and WOCCU to assist in helping with marketing and public relations at the Federation and individual credit unions. “The credit union story here is a good one,” Corro said. “We look forward to working together with the Romanian credit unions to help them expand their ability to reach the people who are in need of affordable and ethical financial services.” NCCUL has two partnerships via WOCCU’s International Partnership Program. The first is a long-standing partnership with the South American country of Suriname, while the second is a partnership agreement with one of the largest credit unions in Mexico, Caja Morelia. To see a video about the visit, use the link.

Canadians consider federal CU legislation

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OTTAWA, Canada (11/23/09)--The Canadian government is considering a bill to create a federal licensing option for the nation’s 427 credit unions. Canadian credit unions are currently regulated and licensed on a provincial basis. Federal legislation would give credit unions the power to operate across provinces. However, a federal licensing option could also bring credit unions in closer alignment with the country's banks, a factor that concerns some credit union professionals and volunteers, said the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU).
Click to view larger image Daniel Burns, World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) director and vice chair of Central 1 Credit Union (left), and Dave Grace, WOCCU vice president of association services, prepare to “hike the hill” in Ottawa, Canada.
Click to view larger image Canadian credit union officials (from left) Cheryl Byrne, Credit Union Central of Canada (CUCC) vice president; Scott Kennedy, CUCC board member; and Marty von Wuthenau, government relations director for Central 1 Credit Union, prepare to visit legislators in Ottawa, Canada. (Photos provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
Federal licensing was one of several issues facing credit union representatives who participated in Canada's inaugural “hike the hill” lobbying efforts Nov. 17 in Ottawa, Ontario. The Capitol Hill visits were organized by Credit Union Central of Canada (CUCC), a WOCCU member organization. The effort netted credit union representatives meetings with 42 separate legislators from Canada's prime minister's office and parliament, a response that surprised and pleased participants. “We were hoping for 20 to 25 appointments and were overwhelmed with the response from 42 parliamentarians wanting to meet with credit unions,” said Daniel Burns, first vice chair of Central 1 Credit Union and a WOCCU director. “We were extremely pleased with the results from our meetings and how receptive members of parliament were to our issues.” The proposed federal credit union legislation was a key topic of discussion, Burns said. Equally important in discussion were the issues of achieving a competitive balance with the government-run Farm Credit Canada and Business Development Canada and the need to ensure greater viability of the Interac card network in the face of new competitive threats from Visa and MasterCard. During a Nov. 16 meeting of CUCC’s Legislative Affairs Committee, chaired by Burns, participants discussed pros and cons of the federal licensing option. Amendments to the country's Bank Act could lead to the creation of federal credit union legislation, a move designed to encourage the development of what Canada's Ministry of Finance described as a strong second-tier banking system. However, the possible amending of the Bank Act to create cooperative banks, rather than allocating the legislative resources to amend the current Cooperative Credit Act or create a new federal credit union act, raises red flags for many Canadian credit unions. If passed as initially drafted, the law would offer Canadian credit unions the option to be licensed as cooperative banks, enabling them to operate across provinces while still maintaining their credit union identities. Credit unions would keep some of their existing powers as provincially licensed institutions, but now would be supervised and receive deposit insurance through Canada's Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, potentially blurring the distinction between commercial banks, and member-owned and operated financial cooperatives. In August, CUCC distributed a consultation paper among its credit unions discussing the federal licensing option. The CUCC board is reviewing industry feedback and the proposal from the Ministry of Finance and will be announcing its initial position by the end of November. In countries such as the U.S. and India, multi-state branching similar to the options Canadian credit unions are facing under the proposed law has led to industry growth. However, caution is advised to make sure any new regulations result in better service to members, said Dave Grace, WOCCU’s vice president of association services, who participated in both the meeting and Capitol Hill visits. “It's important to have legislative and regulatory options, but those options must be equal to or better than what is currently offered through provincial regulations,” Grace said. “Strengthening Canada’s credit unions is critical, but so is differentiating them from large national banks. The second service tier, as Canadian legislators call it, can help balance public risk and improve consumer service, especially in the face of global economic challenges like those recently affecting countries worldwide.”

Minn. league president gets press presence

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (11/23/09)--Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) President/CEO Mark D. Cummins made his debut as a regular industry columnist in early November, highlighting the importance of credit unions as financial cooperatives in Minnesota’s Finance & Commerce newspaper. His article, entitled “Credit unions are built to last,” was MnCUN’s first published editorial in Finance & Commerce’s “Association Update” section. “We’ve been working really hard this year to cultivate relationships with all the major metro finance pubs,” Kristina Wright, MnCUN vice president of communications, told News Now. “In our second get-to-know-you meeting with them, we discussed their new ‘Association Update’ column and they asked us to take part. There are a number of associations that fit with their readership--us being one of them--so they asked us to join.” The article served as a platform to educate consumers about the credit union difference, focusing on credit unions’ perseverance in today’s economy and the safety and security of members’ deposits. “Credit unions operate more conservatively with less risk. They focus on serving and educating members … not forcing loans on them just to make a quick buck,” Cummins wrote. He went on to acknowledge feelings of mistrust in the financial industry and pointed out that Minnesota credit unions’ capital levels are higher than 10%, well above regulators’ definition of well-capitalized, which is 7%. Despite the fact that credit unions are still relatively small in terms of size and market-share when compared to other industry giants, Cummins mentioned that credit unions are sophisticated financial institutions in the business of serving consumers. “In today’s unprecedented times, we all want to save some money and feel secure in our finances,” Cummins wrote. “It’s good to know that you can turn to your local credit union for safety, security and strength.” To read the column, use the link. MnCUN’s next column is slated to run Dec. 4.

CU System briefs (11/20/2009)

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* PITTSFIELD, Maine (11/23/09)--Sebasticook Valley FCU, Pittsfield, Maine, will offer members an Energy Loan Program to help them with the cost of oil this winter. The program will give loans to members for heating costs up to $3,000 with 0% financing for a year. Members will receive checks payable to their fuel provider (Bangor Daily News Nov. 19). The offer is limited-time and is available as the credit union’s budget allows. Sebasticook Valley FCU has $57.2 million in assets ... * ST. LOUIS (11/23/09)--Vantage CU, St. Louis, awarded Marillyn Singleton a $25,000 check for winning the credit union’s Have Enough
Click to view larger image Click for larger view
Savings Campaign. The campaign ran April through October and encouraged members to save money by setting up an automatic transfer to their savings. Singleton’s name was randomly drawn from 4,600 qualifying participants. She told the credit union she plans to set up a savings account for her youngest son and help her oldest child with the purchase of a vehicle. “When I got the call, I thought it might be a hoax,” Singleton said. “I had to do my own research on the Vantage website before I believed it! I just sat there in disbelief. This couldn’t have come at a better time; it is truly a blessing for our family.” From left are: Angie Williams, branch manager; Singleton; and Hubert Hoosman, Jr., Vantage CEO. Vantage has $628 million in assets. (Photo provided by Vantage CU) ...