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CU System briefs (12/09/2008)

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* ST. LOUIS (12/10/08)—A former policeman was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison and three years on parole stemming from evidence tampering charges related to the theft of money in evidence after a credit union robbery. Mickey L. Dooley, 48, a police officer and evidence technician, was found guilty of evidence tampering, fraud, receiving stolen property, tax evasion and theft. The stolen money in evidence was from robberies at Olin CU and U.S. Bank. Dooley, who was evidence custodian at the time, was ordered to pay restitution of more than $48,748. He also was ordered to pay a $650 fine and a $725 special assessment (Belleville News-Democrat Dec. 9) … * Asheville, N.C. (12/10/08)—The Carolinas Credit Union Foundation presented an $11,000 Micro Community Grant last week to Children First/Communities in Schools of Buncombe County. The grant will be used to purchase furniture, supplies and equipment for the group’s Project MARCH homework clubs. MARCH offers a safe haven for children to complete their homework, exercise and socialize after school until parents and guardians are available. The proposal was put together with the assistance of the Western Chapter of Credit Unions and United Services CU, a $43.2 million asset credit union in Asheville (Asheville Citizen-Times Dec. 60 … * LAKELAND, Fla. (12/10/08)--MidFlorida FCU, a $1.331 billion asset credit union based in Lakeland, has acquired A.H. Realty Inc., a real estate brokerage company in a deal completed Dec. 3. The brokerage firm will be renamed MidFlorida Real Estate Sales LLC. The acquisition means MidFlorida FCU can enter and expand a real estate business in central Florida, said Datamonitor (Financial Deals Tracker Dec. 3) …

Carolina minority center awards 3.65 million to CDCUs

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DURHAM, N.C. (12/10/08)—The North Carolina Minority Support Center has awarded $3.65 million to its affiliate community development credit unions (CDCUs) to provide for their operational, business lending and expansion needs. Recipients, who will receive the awards by year end, include:
* First Legacy Community CU, Charlotte, $28.3 million in assets; * Greater Kinston CU, Kinston, $9 million assets; * Latino Community CU, Durham, $66.4 million assets; and * Generations Community CU, Durham, $20.3 million assets.
Funding for the award cycle was provided by North Carolina’s General Assembly to support CDCU services and their efforts to serve low- to moderate-income members (CarolinaNewswire.com Dec. 8). The CDCUs’ requests “demonstrate that even in the midst of a down economy, CDCUs across the state are experiencing tremendous demand for their products and services. Not only are they working to meet the needs of their current members, they actually have an opportunity to reach a greater number of low-moderate income families,” said Avani Parekh-Bhatt, development and program director at the support center. The support center is a statewide advocate that partners with CDCUs to provide technical assistance, grants and loans to help them build generational wealth and create opportunities for individuals, families and communities.

Economy prompts Members United Corporate changes

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WARRENVILLE, Ill. (12/10/08)—Members United Corporate FCU Tuesday announced general budget reductions, a 20% reduction in staff and a return to a “back-to-basics” business approach—all stemming from the continuing market dislocation and a weakening economy. The staff reductions include Members United President David A. Preter, former CEO of Mid-States Corporate. “Members United has seen a reduction of approximately $6 billion in assets from its peak of $15 billion in March of this year due to the continuing market dislocations,” said Corporate CEO Joseph P. Herbst. “Members United has funded the liquidity needs of our members and will continue to do so,” Herbst said. “However, this reduction in the size of our balance sheet affects our ability to cover expenses at current levels and grow retained earnings. Clearly, we need to make changes to protect member value. “Following the merger between Mid-States and Empire corporates, Members United experienced tremendous growth,” Herbst stated. “Responding to that growth, the corporate assembled an extremely talented staff to support its operations and to position it for further growth in the future. But as 2008 draws to a close, that situation has changed.” The corporate will reduce its operating budget from initial 2009 projections by roughly $10 million through reduced spending on programs, infrastructure and product development, outside commitments and direct subsidies. Staff reductions, which will occur at all levels and locations, will trim expenses by about $5 million. Commenting on Preter’s departure, Herbst said, “Along with the other employees who will be departing, Dave will be sorely missed. I am sure he will remain a force in the credit union industry. I have no doubt he will make a great CEO in the future.” Preter said, “I leave Members United knowing that this decision is in the best interest of the members and that they are in very capable hands. I am very proud of the people at Members United and of the organization we have built over the years.” Members United also will look at its business operations in general. Its back-to-basics approach will focus more on its core markets and traditional product offerings. While these changes are still being finalized, Members United expects to implement them in the near term. While the corporate expects 2009 to be a challenging year, Herbst assured member credit unions in a letter announcing the changes, “While this is a difficult time, we remain committed to providing you the high level of service that you have become accustomed to.”

IN.Y. TimesI writer recommends CUs for small biz

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NEW YORK (12/10/08)—A columnist in The New York Times Tuesday advises small businesses how to increase their efficiency and cut costs, citing advice from Entrepreneur magazine, which recommends credit unions as an inexpensive benefit small business can offer their employees. Paul B. Brown’s column, which notes that times are tough for small businesses too, picked up three suggestions from the magazine. Among them: “Sign up with a credit union. This is ‘one of the most appreciated, but most overlooked,’ benefits. Employees will probably ‘increase their savings rates especially if you offer automatic payroll deduction, have access to lower loan rates and pay lower fees—if any—for services.’” For the full article, use the link.

IWall St. JournalI Look into CUs to improve credit rating

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NEW YORK (12/10/08)--Consumers can find several opportunities to rebuild the wealth they lost this past year due to failing banks, plunging home prices and the turbulent market. One way is to protect credit ratings. If consumers can’t improve their rating, they should look into credit unions. So says The Wall Street Journal in its Sunday issue. “These lenders are more inclined to look past your credit score to see whether other circumstances, like job history and other assets, make you creditworthy,” said the Journal’s “SmartMoney” column of credit unions. The article lists a number of ways consumers can recoup losses including:
* Working past their planned retirement date, to boost income from Social Security and investment returns by as much as 6.4% for each year worked. * Staying in the stock market and riding out the downturn. * Protecting their credit score. * Renting out their home if they must move elsewhere. * Bargaining with national chains for discounts on a variety of purchases.
For the complete article, use the link.

Illinois league announces statewide award winners

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NAPERVILLE, Ill. (12/10/08)--The Illinois Credit Union League (ICUL) honored several Illinois credit unions for their efforts through the Desjardins, Dora Maxwell, and Louise Herring award programs, including one that placed second in the national competition. In the Desjardins Youth Financial Awards program, first-place winners in their asset categories are:
* Prairie Trail CU, Joliet, $35 million to $75 million assets; * NuMark CU, Joliet $75 million to $250 million; and * Great Lakes CU, North Chicago, more than $250 million.
In the Dora Maxwell Award for Social Responsibility competition, first-place winners are:
* Rock Valley FCU, Rockford, $50 million to $100 million assets; * Financial Plus CU, Ottawa, $100 million to $200 million (also second-place national award winner); * Scott CU, Collinsville $200 million to $500 million; and * Consumers Cooperative CU, Waukegan, more than $500 million.
In the Louise Herring Award for Philosophy in Action, the first-place winners are:
* GCS FCU, Granite City $50 million to $250 million assets; and * Consumers Cooperative CU, Waukegan, more than $250 million.
Each credit union will be recognized during ICUL’s 79th Annual Convention to be held April 16-18 in Chicago and will be presented a plaque at the chapter level. “We sincerely appreciate everything all of our credit unions do for their communities, and this is just one small way we can recognize them for their efforts,” said Dan Plauda, ICUL president/CEO.

World CU Conference offers strategic planning facilities

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MADISON, Wis. (12/10/08--World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) is inviting credit union boards and executive management teams to conduct strategic planning sessions in conjunction with the 2009 World Credit Union Conference. The conference convenes July 26-29 in Barcelona, Spain. Due to current economic challenges, many credit unions are seeking new ways to keep their leadership engaged and their member service levels high. Alternative approaches to strategic planning and team building exercises, such as meeting in conjunction with the World Credit Union Conference, can more effectively bring an organization's leadership together, WOCCU said. While attending the conference, board members will interact with their credit union peers from around the globe. They can gain new ideas and different insights into credit union management techniques and strategies that can become focal points of their strategic planning meetings, WOCCU said. “Your board will once again understand why they volunteer and how credit unions change people's lives, both at home and in communities worldwide,” said Pete Crear, WOCCU president/CEO. “It's an investment that will return dividends to your credit union for years to come.” Also, attendees can participate in educational breakout session and networking opportunities, and gain a global perspective on the credit union movement. WOCCU can help boards secure meeting space to plan and conduct their strategic planning sessions. For more information, contact Sue Sabatke, WOCCU's meetings manager, at ssabatke@woccu.org or call 608-395-2089. For more information on the World Credit Union Conference, use the link.

Georgia CUs kick off safetysoundness campaign

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DULUTH, Ga. (12/10/08)--Georgia Credit Union Affiliates (GCUA) has created a media campaign to make Georgians aware of the safety and soundness of credit unions to assure state residents they still have options for a safe place to put their money. The statewide campaign kicked off in November with billboard, print and radio advertising in cities throughout the state, reaching millions of Georgia consumers. “This has been a prime opportunity for credit unions to get the word out about the unique position that credit unions have in the financial services industry, and how people can rest assured that Georgia credit unions are safe, secure and ready to lend,” said Eric Jenkins, GCUA senior vice president of credit union growth services. GCUA enlisted the support of financial guru Dave Ramsey of the nationally syndicated “The Dave Ramsey Show.” He endorsed Georgia credit unions in a 30-second spot that aired statewide for several weeks throughout his consumer financial advice show and during other radio programs. Capturing the attention of Georgia sports fans, GCUA had a presence at the sold-out opening game for the Atlanta Hawks basketball team when they played the Philadelphia 76ers. Credit union representatives gave away T-shirts, stress relievers and other materials to tout the credit union message. Also, messages were displayed on the score board throughout the game to inform fans about credit unions. The campaign continues to reach Georgians throughout the month of December by displaying messages to commuters on metro Atlanta’s MARTA transit system. MARTA logs over seven million passenger trips per month, and travelers to the city’s most popular entertainment, transportation and business areas view messages on 134 digital boards located in all 38 MARTA rail stations. These messages include tag lines such as “Nearly 2 Million Georgians Belong to a Credit Union. Do You Belong?” and “Belonging to a Credit Union is Easy. Your Money Will Thank You.” Each of the messages reminds viewers that deposits at credit unions are federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration and directs them to the Georgia credit unions’ website. Credit unions have enhanced the affiliates’ statewide awareness efforts by spreading the word locally about credit unions’ safety and soundness. They have displayed posters in their lobbies, distributed stuffers and tent cards to members, and added Web banners to their websites, and sent HTML e-mail messages to their members.

WOCCU takes PDA transaction technology to Mexico

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MORELIA, Mexico (12/10/08)--World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) has teamed with Caja Morelia Valladolid, one of Mexico's largest credit unions, in a pilot project to use personal digital assistants (PDAs) to perform financial transactions during field visits to its members.
A credit union representative (right) conducts a transaction with a member in rural Mexico, using new handheld technology now part of World Council of Credit Unions’ semilla cooperativa program. (Photo provided by World Council of Credit Unions)
The effort is aimed at expanding efficient and secure financial services to people living in rural, marginalized areas of Mexico. The PDAs enable credit union field officers to transmit account data through cell phone towers to the credit union's central database in real time while visiting members in remote rural communities. The new technology reduces the risk of error in manual record keeping on field visits, helps provide faster, more secure service and builds member trust, said WOCCU. “In rural areas of Mexico, people have few options for access to financial services," said Brian Branch, WOCCU's executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Branch offices and ATMs do not have the population density or infrastructure to support them, but cell phone signals extend deep into the rural areas. The use of PDAs enables the credit unions to reach much deeper into the rural areas to provide financial services to people who have previously never had access.” Field officers previously recorded transactions manually in Caja Morelia's accounting books and in members' passbooks, then took the records back to the credit union to process. Through PDA technology, handheld printers immediately produce receipts while member accounts are updated in real time. PDA applications shorten transaction times, which reduce the length of waiting time for members and enable credit union representatives to serve more people during field visits. The technology, introduced in November, is a new addition to the semilla cooperativa (cooperative seed) rural outreach methodology WOCCU pioneered in the states of Michoacan, where Morelia is located, and Veracruz five years ago. Funding for that project came from the Mexican Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA). An additional US$24.8 million from SAGARPA's Proyecto de Asistencia Técnica al Microfinanciamiento Rural (PATMIR) project has allowed WOCCU to expand its outreach approach to rural markets through 55 credit unions in 22 Mexican states. Through semilla cooperativa, credit unions train rural field officers from the area to regularly provide credit union services to communities up to 19 miles from branch offices. The service approach involves attracting new members, extending financial education, approving small loan applications and bringing credit, savings and remittance services directly to people living in remote rural areas. It is the first service of its kind offered by Mexico's financial institutions, WOCCU said. The program allows rural members to save money on transportation and put more time and resources into income-generating activities rather than spending a day traveling to the nearest branch office. The PDAs are designed to make the service more efficient and secure. “The PDAs will help credit unions minimize the risk that exists in providing this service by transmitting data to the financial institution online so that field officers can see members' up-to-date balances in their accounts," explained Luis Jara, director of WOCCU's program in Mexico. “The field officer also reduces personal risk by not having to transport as much money among the communities.” WOCCU plans to increase its PDA distribution to other credit unions participating in the program during the next year. The technology will enable representatives to reach people from more than 11,000 villages in 22 states. The WOCCU program also will implement the use of point-of-sale (POS) devices in semilla cooperativa communities in the coming year, allowing members and field officers to make credit union deposits at local shops and outlets. The POS devices also further reduce the field officers' risk of transporting funds and will allow members to access their accounts on a daily basis in their own communities. “The field officers’ services are becoming even more valuable to the communities they serve," Jara said. “The new technology will enable credit unions to more efficiently and effectively serve the growing ranks of rural members.”

Michigan regulators hold town meetings with CUs

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LANSING, Mich. (12/10/09)--Michigan’s Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation (OFIR) conducted two town hall meetings Dec. 3 for credit unions in the state.
Commissioner Ken Ross, left, of Michigan’s Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation conducted two town meetings for Michigan credit unions Dec. 3. He is shown here at Option 1 CU in Grand Rapids. (Photo provided by the Michigan Credit Union League)
OFIR Commissioner Ken Ross met with credit unions at Community Choice CU in Farmington Hills and at Option 1 CU in Grand Rapids. The meetings aimed to create an open dialogue between OFIR and credit unions on state regulatory issues, said the Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL) (Michigan Monitor Dec. 9). “This was a great opportunity for me, as commissioner, to get out and talk to Michigan credit unions and get their impression on what is happening out in the Michigan environment, and also to hear about the job that we are doing,” Ross said. “It was interesting to hear the difference in perspectives from different managers. There is a rich diversity in Michigan credit unions,” he said, adding that it was “important not only for credit unions to hear from the commissioner directly on a regular basis, but also to be able to speak directly and candidly about what they’re seeing out in the field.” The meetings focused on issues for state-chartered credit unions, although federal credit unions also could attend, said the league. “It’s a good chance to hear about the concerns some credit unions are having in this economic environment, with both foreclosures being at all-time highs and with what’s going on in the auto industry,” Patrick LaPine, MCUL executive vice president, told Michigan Monitor.