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CU System briefs (02/06/2009)

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* OAKLAND, Calif. (2/9/09)--Spokane (Wash.) Teachers' CU is included as one of nine organizations with "best practices" for increasing the effectiveness of tuition assistance programs in a report by Bersin & Associates. The Oakland-based firm surveyed more than 400 companies across all industry segments. The study found that while 85% of companies have a tuition assistance program, most do not centrally manage their programs or align them with corporate talent needs (PR Newswire Feb. 5). The report also noted that dollars involved are significant, with the average expenditure for participating employees in such programs at $3,769 per employee, roughly three times what is spent on traditional corporate training … * ST. LOUIS (2/9/09)--Charlie Waalkes of St. Louis-based Anheuser Busch Employees CU served on the Missouri House Speaker's Task Force on the Housing Market, according to the Missouri Credit Union Association (The Missouri difference Jan. 30). The Speaker's office recently announced that as a result of the task force findings, the Missouri Housing Development Commission will offer a program to help homebuyers get a $7,500 federal first-time homebuyer tax credit. The credit will be available as an interest-free cash loan at closing … * LITTLETON, Colo. (2/9/09)--A Colorado man was sentenced to 19 years for a July 23, 2008, armed robbery of Bellco CU's Littleton branch in which two shots were fired. Tobias Archuleta, 23, also was ordered to pay restitution totaling $83,521 by the U.S. District Court, said the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Colorado. Archuleta pleaded guilty in October to charges stemming from the robbery. According to court records, Archuleta allegedly fired his firearm to get people's attention and ordered everyone in the credit union to get down on the floor. He demanded money from a teller, who complied. He then fired a second shot and ordered a second teller to get money from the credit union's vault before fleeing in a stolen getaway care. Archuleta surrendered later that day (States News Service Jan. 15) … * ROCKFORD, Ill. (2/9/09)--A former staffer at Rock Valley FCU was sentenced to three years and seven months in prison and five years of supervised release for a $1 million spending spree with money embezzled from the Loves Park, Ill.-based credit union. The sentence for Lisa Farel, 40, was lighter than the advisory range of four to six years outlined in a plea deal because she had no prior criminal history, said the U.S. District Judge (Rockford Register Star Feb. 5) …

Calif. DFI now closed on first and third Fridays

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SACRAMENTO (2/9/09)--California's Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) has started following the governor's budgetary mandate and will close offices on the first and third Friday of each month until further notice. The closures began Friday Feb. 6. DFI said it will close offices in Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco. The closures include the DFI Consumer Services Office, said the department in its January Monthly Bulletin. All offices will reopen the following Mondays at regular business hours. The closures are part of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Executive Order S-16-08, which mandates days off for about 200l000 employees in response to California's fiscal crisis. The state has a $42 billion budget gap.

Wisconsin CUs push change in Dominican Republic

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (2/9/09)--Executives from Wisconsin credit unions, the Wisconsin Credit Union League (WCUL), and World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) were in the Dominican Republic recently to help their counterparts there develop a better regulatory environment for the Caribbean nation's financial cooperatives.
Click to view larger imageFrom left, Brett Thompson, president of the Wisconsin Credit Union League; Dave Grace vice president, association services at World Council of Credit Unions, and Victoriano DeJesus, deputy administrator of IDECOOP, which represents Dominican Republic cooperatives, discuss credit unions. (Photos provided by the World Council of Credit Unions)
The visit was part of WOCCU's International Partnerships program. The officials met with leaders from Asociacion de Instituciones Rurales de Ahorro y Credito (AIRAC), the Wisconsin league's counterpart in the Dominican Republic. The organizations met with the country's Central Bank, its Superintendency of Banks and the Institute for Cooperatives to lobby for updating regulations and examination procedures that would better address credit union-specific needs in the Dominican Republic. The country's current legislation dates back to the 1960s. Credit unions hope to modernize it to match the industry's growth and manage risks that are inherent with larger-scale service in meeting growing member demands. "Credit unions in the Dominican Republic have an opportunity to significantly modify their legislative and regulatory environment for the first time in 45 years," said Dave Grace, WOCCU vice president of association services. "We are happy that WOCCU and the Wisconsin Credit Union League have been able to contribute to this effort and that industry input is being sought by the country's lawmakers."
Click to view larger imageParticipants in the World Council of Credit Unions' (WOCCU) International Partnerships visit to the Dominican Republic were: from left, Victor Corro, WOCCU International Partnerships senior manager; Kim Sponem, Summit CU; Mary Bliss, the Wisconsin Credit Union League; Brett Thompson, league president/CEO; Dean Wilson, Focus CU; Greg Hilbert, Fox Communities CU; and Tom Liebe, Wisconsin league
After the meeting, Pedro Silverio, CEO of the Central Bank, asked AIRAC to submit comments to the current bill before it is introduced to Congress later this year. The request marks a step forward for the country's credit unions, said Virginio Rafael Gerardo, AIRAC general manager. In addition to WOCCU executives, the Wisconsin delegation included: Dean Wilson, WCUL chair and CEO of Focus CU, Wauwatosa; Brett Thompson WCUL president/CEO; Mary Bliss, WCUL executive vice president/chief operations officer; Tom Liebe, WCUL vice president of government affairs; Kim Sponem, president of Summit CU, Madison; and Greg Hilbert, president of Fox Communities CU, Appleton. The group also met with two credit unions: Cooperativa Empresarial in Santo Domingo and Cooperativa Maimon, located in a rural area. The Wisconsin delegation also participated with their Dominican Republic counterparts in a seminar covering financial topics such as the U.S. economy and its global impact. WCUL's Liebe spoke on lobbying techniques, and an interactive panel of CEOs discussed mergers, financial products and services, and shared branching. The Wisconsin-Dominican Republic partnership may next offer an executive exchange program to teach credit union officials about their specific credit union responsibilities, officials said.

CUs shine in readers comments on bank battle

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MADISON, Wis. (2/9/09)--A story in a Madison, Wis., newspaper about credit unions battling banks for membership has generated a lot of positive credit union comments on the newspaper’s website. The article, “Credit unions duke it out with banks over market share,” was published Feb. 4. News Now covered the article Feb. 5. “Credit unions don't gouge people like banks do. Loan and savings rates are reasonable, but more importantly, they don't impose all the exorbitant fees that banks do,” according to one reader who posted in the newspaper’s comment forum. “I've been a credit union member for over 30 years and I've done almost all of my banking there. I couldn't be happier. I can't imagine ever going back to a bank.” One individual, who switched to Heartland CU in Madison, Wis., from U.S. Bank, explained why a credit union is preferable to a bank: “I switched last May from U.S. Bank to Heritage CU for several reasons,” the reader said. “Heartland charges no abhorrent fees, customer service is 10 times better, [I have] higher interest rates in my savings, and I’m less worried about my money being in a credit union than a for-profit bank.” Another individual, “LoveSummitCU,” paid $200 in yearly fees to a bank before joining Summit CU in Madison. “I’ve paid zero [fees] at Summit,” the reader said. “The best thing I can think of about Summit is that one day a teller and I were talking, and I happened to bring up that I wanted to buy a home. A loan officer dropped everything she was doing to talk to me right there and then. “She had another appointment, so she couldn’t talk long. But she actually called me later that night. I couldn’t afford [the home] quite yet, but I’m happy to say they worked with me for about a year on saving for a down payment, and I was able to buy my first house,” the reader added. To read the article and comments, use the link.

CUs recognized in report on whos hiring

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WACO, Texas (2/9/09)--Credit unions have been recognized as a growing sector of the U.S. economy that is hiring, according to Profiles International, a firm that specializes in employment evaluation and human resource management assessment tools. Credit unions are expanding, while traditional financial institutions continue to downsize their work forces, Profiles International said. The company is continuing to experience demand for personnel evaluations and assessments from clients such as credit unions that are looking to hire, Profiles International noted (PR NewsWire Feb. 6). Although the U.S. economy has not yet started its recovery, preemptive layoffs would actually hurt many companies in the long-term, said Jim Sirbasku, co-founder and CEO of Profiles International. “A strong staff and viable work force is the greatest asset a company can have because it's the biggest investment a company will ever make,” he explained. “Releasing talented workers in anticipation of an uncertain economic future is often a costly mistake that can mortgage a company’s future. It is far better that companies put off capital investments, which can always be made when the economic conditions strengthen,” Sirbasku added.

Biggest Loser Financial Edition contestants chosen

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BATON ROUGE, La. (2/9/09)--E FCU, in conjunction with Consumer Credit Counseling Services and TV stations NBC33, FOX44, CW21 and RTN19, recently announced four families have been chosen as finalists for The Biggest Loser: Financial Edition.
Click to view larger imageThe Hall family: Howard, Shawanga, and their children, Christian, K’Lynn, Connery and Kassidy, of Zachary, La., are one of four Baton Rouge, La., families participating in “The Biggest Loser: Financial Edition” sponsored by E FCU, Baton Rouge, and four area TV stations. (Photo provided by E FCU)
Throughout the eight-month competition, four Baton Rouge-area families will be challenged to improve their financial situation by saving money and reducing debt with the help of a team of financial coaches. The family that reaches or exceeds its financial goals by the greatest percentage will win $10,000 from the $214.7 million asset, Baton Rouge-based E FCU. Runners-up will win cash prizes as well--$5,000 for the second place family, $2,500 for third, and $1,000 for fourth. Most important, each family's members will have learned life-long financial lessons they'll never forget, the credit union said. The competing families are:
* The Hall family: Howard, Shawanga and their children, Christian, KfLynn, Connery and Kassidy of Zachary; * The Willis family: Chandler, Claire and their children, Evangeline and Gabrielle of Baton Rouge; * The Ridings family: Kevin, Susan and their children, Amanda and Kaitlin of Gonzales; * The Smith family: Kristi and her children, Shelby and Kalyn of Walker.
The families' progress will be chronicled on Tuesday nights during Fox News Baton Rouge at 9 p.m. CST and NBC33 News at 10 p.m. CST. The entire Baton Rouge community can "play along at home" and improve their financial status along with the families online. Through a website, community participants can read the families' weekly blogs, watch clips from televised interviews, sign up for monthly savings tips, join a family's booster club, and download the same tools and resources the competing families use to improve their finances. "With the current economic climate, many families in the area are struggling to reach financial goals," said Ken Bordelon, CEO of E FCU. "Our hope is that while we help the four families to succeed financially, we also reach many in our community and inspire them to improve their financial lives as well." E FCU also will host quarterly financial seminars open to the entire community on budgeting, financial planning, and identity theft with Consumer Credit Counseling Services. To see the three families not pictured here, use the links:

Pennsylvania budget has no CU provisions

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (2/9/09)--Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell outlined a $29 billion budget Wednesday for 2009-2010 that--at this time--doesn’t appear to contain any proposals that would be detrimental to credit unions, the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association (PCUA) said. However, PCUA staff said they will continue to monitor budget negotiations (Life is a Highway Feb. 5). PCUA was part of a coalition of business associations that outlined a plan for the budget. Joining the coalition is just another way PCUA is protecting credit unions’ tax-exempt status, PCUA said (Life is a Highway Jan. 29). In his opening comments, Rendell noted that the budget “presents challenges the likes of which Pennsylvania and the nation have not seen since the Great Depression. “The worst economic crisis of our lifetime has dramatically reordered priorities in Washington, in Harrisburg, and most importantly, around the kitchen tables in homes all across our [state], where families are asking themselves questions that were unthinkable just six months ago: What happens next? Will I keep my job? What happens if I get sick? How will we survive?” he continued. The budget is a 2.5% increase over the 2008-09 budget. It calls for an increase in some taxes and cuts other programs, and reduces the number of state jobs by about 2,600. The budget also would withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars from the state’s “rainy day” contingency fund without draining it completely. It does not call for increasing any broad-based tax, PCUA said.

Oregon FIs work for heavier robbery sentences

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BEAVERTON, Ore. (2/9/09)--Oregon credit unions and banks are working together through the Financial Institution Security Taskforce (FIST) to help reduce robberies and other crimes committed against financial institutions, to ensure the safety of staff and members/customers, and to obtain stiffer sentences for offenders. FIST is a cooperative venture supported by the state’s credit unions and banks, and their respective trade associations--the Credit Union Association of Oregon (CUAO) and the Oregon Bankers Association. FIST works with representatives from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies whenever appropriate. When the public hears about a bank or credit union robbery, it is usually about the act itself. Rarely do they see the consequence for such a rash event, or the emotional toll that the bank or credit union customers and employees must pay, said CUAO. Four repeat offenders for credit union and bank robberies in the Portland metropolitan area recently received substantial sentences of 12 years or more through the federal court system for crimes committed in 2007 and 2008, CUAO said in a press release. When setting a sentence, the court is required to consider the impact on victims. And while most consider robbery a financial crime, the human toll is great, the association added. “Robbing a bank or a credit union has very real consequences,” said Ken Austin, FIST co-chair. “We were very pleased with the sentences that these four repeat offenders received. The public rarely sees the end result of a robbery. And we hope that this will act as a deterrent to others.” FIST co-chair Sandra Hess, loss prevention officer at Unitus Community CU, Portland, explained why credit unions and banks collaborate in this area. “There is definitely power in numbers when it comes to fighting crime,” Hess said. “Working together to help provide rewards for information on robberies, as well as working to prevent and lessen the impact of robberies for our state’s banks and credit unions is important to all of us.”

CUNA Mutuals retirement plan ranked No. 1

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MADISON, Wis. (2/9/09)--CUNA Mutual Group Retirement Plan Services was ranked No. 1 in the overall categories for “Recordkeeping/Administration” and “Investment Services” in the 401kExchange survey of 401(k) plan sponsors for 2008. CUNA Mutual has provided services to small retirement plans for more than 50 years and has been recognized as a top provider in surveys completed by 401kExchange and Boston Research Group since the surveys began in 2001. The groups surveyed more than 16,000 plan sponsors with total plan assets less than $1 million, and more than 25,000 sponsors with assets in the $1 million-to-$10 million range. In both asset categories, CUNA Mutual received the highest percentage of favorable (4 and 5) ratings. Overall, CUNA Mutual also ranked No. 1 in many underlying categories. Top rankings in plans from $1 million to $10 million included:
* Customer service; * Education/communication; * Investment options; * Fund performance; * Investment fees and recordkeeping fees; and * Plan administration.
“These top rankings across the board show that CUNA Mutual Group really knows its customer,” said Fred Barstein, president/CEO and founder of 401kExchange. “More importantly, it’s doing the right things to keep its customers happy.” Tom Eckert, vice president of retirement plan services for CUNA Mutual, credits the company’s success on focus. “We try to be the best when it comes to helping a participant successfully reach a financially secure retirement,” he said. “We tend to work with plan sponsors whose main goal is also helping their employees achieve retirement success.” Founded in 1996, 401kExchange is a source of business development, market intelligence, and due diligence services for the 401(k) and retirement industry serving the small- and mid-sized corporate market. Based in Palm Beach County, Fla., it helps connect plan sponsors, retirement advisors, broker/dealers and service providers with each other.

SECU explores partnering with Nobel winner

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RALEIGH, N.C. (2/9/09)--State Employees CU (SECU) is exploring the possibility of bringing a micro-credit lending system to North Carolina that would help low-income individuals.
Click to view larger imageState Employees CU (SECU), Raleigh, N.C., is exploring the possibility of bringing a micro-credit lending system to the state with Grameen America, a microfinance institution from Bangladesh. From left are: Mike Banks, SECU senior vice president, Raleigh-Blue Ridge Road branch; Muhammad Yunus, Grameen creator; Sue Douglas, SECU senior vice president and chief operations officer; and Jim Blaine, SECU president/CEO. (Photo provided by State Employees CU)
The system would be the result of collaboration between SECU and Grameen America, a microfinance institution started in Bangladesh by Dr. Muhammad Yunus, a 2006 Nobel Peace Price winner. The Grameen model provides low-income individuals who do not qualify for traditional credit the opportunity to receive loans. Grameen has achieved a 99.5% repayment rate, and has helped more than 7.5 million worldwide, SECU said. Grameen expanded its operation to Queens, N.Y., and is looking to move to North Carolina because of the state’s supportive financial community. Leaders from Raleigh-based SECU, the Self Help community development organization, banking organizations, and the North Carolina Administrator of Credit Unions support Grameen, SECU said. “Micro-credit lends for productive purposes and is not about giving people a break, it’s about giving people a chance,” said Jim Blaine, SECU president/CEO. “The Grameen model may not work in North Carolina, but it’s certainly a low-cost, low-risk opportunity to help create new jobs and help nurture local entrepreneurs.” The $16-billion-asset SECU has participated in a similar role since 2001 with Latino Community CU in Durham, N.C. “We are very hopeful that North Carolina will embrace this unusual experiment,” Blaine said.