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Georgia CUs help consumers afford life in todays economy

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DULUTH, Ga. (9/6/12)--One of the main goals for credit unions is to provide practical help to members for the challenge of affording life, according to a credit union in Georgia, responding to data from the Georgia Credit Union Affiliates' (GCUA) 2012 Mid-Year Consumer Poll.

The poll found that 32% of those surveyed believe Georgia's economy is worse than it was a year ago. Of the respondents, 66.5% said they are living paycheck to paycheck--up from 59.8% who said so in 2011. What's more, 12.2% said they could survive just three to six months on their current savings if they lost their job. That's down from 14% last year, said GCUA.

Searching for better value on everything from groceries to financial services has led Georgians to credit unions. Credit unions in the state grew 3.3% in 2011 and 2.1% in first quarter of 2012, GCUA said, citing its most recent Member Benefits Index study.

Most people have been affected in some way by the challenge of affording life, according to Carol Wolfe, vice president of member services at DOCO CU, Albany.  She told GCUA that as things have become more expensive, people have had to cut luxuries.  "Before we got what we wanted. Now we get what we need," she said.

She noted that one of the main goals is to provide practical help to members. As part of the REAL Deal initiative, DOCO, like many Georgia credit unions, has designed products and programs for this purpose.

"We see the need for dependable transportation as one of the biggest priorities for our members," Wolfe told GCUA.  "In response to this need, we developed a fresh start auto loan for people with credit issues."

DOCO also offers fresh start checking accounts and small loans with very low application fees for emergencies. "Lots of people don't qualify for a bank loan," Wolfe said. "We look at each situation on an individual basis. We don't believe you should have to prove you don't need the money before you can be approved for a loan."

Koloa members to vote on merger with Garden Island

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KOLOA, Hawaii (9/6/12)--Members of Koloa (Hawaii) FCU are voting this week on whether to merge their credit union with Lihue, Hawaii-based Garden Island FCU.

Koloa has $17.1 million in assets and 2,716 members, while Garden Island has $72 million in assets and 5,758 members.

About 25 members of Koloa FCU attended a meeting Aug. 29 with staff and board members.  Koloa FCU's interim manager, Ralph Fujinaka, has retired, and members were told the credit union doesn't have enough funds to hire a full-time replacement as required by regulations (The Garden Island Sept. 3).

If the merger is approved, Koloa would become the Koloa branch of Garden Island (Pacific Business News Online Sept. 4).

Data Michigan CUs create jobs support biz

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LANSING, Mich. (9/6/12)--Michigan credit unions have seen some of the largest increases in hiring and business lending in recent years while continuing to serve an increasing membership and contribute to the state's economic turnaround, according to second quarter data released by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA).

The Michigan Credit Union League (MCUL) & Affiliates says NCUA's data show that full-time employment at the state's credit unions increased 1.2% for second quarter--the best quarterly increase in four years. During the past year, full-time employment at credit unions rose 3.3%, compared with 2.1% nationally. Full-time employment at Michigan credit unions has increased for five consecutive quarters, said the league.

"Michigan credit unions are not only proud to provide outstanding services and products that help people and businesses save more and own their money. We're also proud that we can help put people back to work in good jobs and be part of the solution to today's economic issues," said David Adams, MCUL  CEO. "Michigan's economy is slowly coming back in several sectors, and we're pleased that our credit unions also put out the 'now hiring' sign. When people have jobs, they spend locally and that benefits our entire community."

Nearly one-third of Michigan credit unions added new full-time employees in the past year. For example, hiring at Clinton Township-based Michigan Schools & Government CU (MSGCU) rose 29%, and the number of year-to-date hires is double the pace of 2011, said MCUL.

"With more than 8,000 applicants vying for open positions at our credit union this year, the response to our job postings is quite frankly overwhelming," said MSGCU CEO Peter Gates. "Our credit union plays a central role in our community and that means doing everything we can to support the families and businesses we serve, including hiring locally and creating jobs."

The hiring trend is in part the result of growing membership. Michigan credit unions added 12,000 new members during second quarter and more than 74,000 members in the past 12 months.  More than 4.5 million Michigan residents--half the state's population--are credit union members.

Credit unions also supply much-needed capital to small businesses. The number of Michigan credit unions offering business loans is up 6.8% in second quarter, with nine new credit unions now offering these loans.  Today, 46% of Michigan credit unions offer business loans, compared with 27% nationally.  Member business loans (MBL) increased 4.2%, compared with 1.7% nationally, during the quarter. During the past 12 months, MBLs rose 13.6%, compared with 8.2% nationally.

The league noted that an arbitrary cap on credit union MBLs "threatens to limit the critical access to capital that will help the economy recover and grow."  The Credit Union National Association, the leagues, and credit unions have said that raising the MBL cap to 27.5% of assets (from the current 12.25%) would stimulate the economy by injecting $13 billion in new small business loans and helping create 140,000 new jobs the first year, without costing taxpayers a dime.

Meanwhile, Michigan credit unions continue to find ways to support small businesses. Last month, after nearly a year of advocacy efforts by the league on behalf of Michigan's credit unions, the Michigan Commissioner of Financial and Insurance Regulation singed an order authorizing credit union service organizations to provide small business equity investments to Michigan credit unions and their members.

"This unprecedented opportunity for credit unions has tremendous potential and is further evidence of our commitment to supporting  small businesses and contributing to the economic turnaround," Adams said.

CU System briefs (09/05/2012)

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  • PHILADELPHIA (9/6/12)--Ignacio "Nacho" Morales, 49, former manager of the now defunct Borinquen FCU in North Philadelphia, has pleaded guilty in a U.S. District Court  in Philadelphia to conspiracy, embezzlement, money laundering, and tax and drug charges (The Philadelphia Inquirer Sept. 5). The charges relate to a $2.3 million embezzlement which led to the credit union's collapse last year. The credit union had served North Philadelphia's Hispanic community for decades and had 7,000 members at the time it was shuttered by the National Credit Union Administration.  More than $5 million was missing, said the article. From 2006 to 2011, Morales allegedly cashed hundreds of tax-refund checks issued for fraudulent tax returns and kept 20% of the refund. From 2008 to 2011 he allegedly collected about $50,000 a month in kickbacks from one person who dropped off illegal refund checks each week from people who were not members of the credit union. He also was accused of taking $600,000 in cash from the credit union to buy real estate and bilking $700,000 from an organization that deposited $1.7 million in the credit union. Morales is cooperating with authorities investigating others' roles in the fraud. He faces 10 years in prison but could receive a shorter sentence based on cooperation with investigators, said attorneys in the case …
  • DEARBORN, Mich. (9/6/12)--An armed, 46-year old credit union robbery suspect was chased by police and arrested after crashing his alleged get-away vehicle into a Garden City, Mich., house (Detroit Free Press Sept. 4). The man, a resident of Dearborn, allegedly entered a branch of the $3.3 billion asset DFCU Financial CU, Dearborn, Tuesday. The robber, who wore a mask and brandished a rifle, demanded cash from credit union employees. The man was followed by police and allegedly fired a shot after crashing the car into a neighborhood home. No one was in the residence, and no officers were hit by the shot. The unidentified suspect, who was then taken to a hospital after complaining of chest pains, said he would have fired more than one shot if his gun had not jammed …
  • LYNN, Mass. (9/6/12)--A judge set bail at $15,000 for a man who turned himself in after he allegedly robbed Salem, Mass.-based St. Jean's CU Lynn branch, to pay of a drug debt. David Morrissey was charged with intimidation to steal from a depository institution and armed robbery after allegedly passing a note to a teller demanding "big bills, no dye pack, bait money, GPS alarm after I leave," according to the Detroit Free Press (Sept. 4). The note said the man was armed and also had an "HIV/AIDS needle. The teller handed Morrissey $5,460 in cash. Morrissey then fled in a black pick-up truck with a yellow plow. After turning himself in, Morrissey told police a drug dealer had been threatening his family over a debt he owed …
  • ONTARIO, Calif. (9/6/12)--The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues recently earned a 2012 International Association of Business Communicators Pacific Plains Region Silver Quill Award for a 2011 annual meeting and convention marketing campaign. The campaign, whose theme was "Turning Point," earned an Award of Merit. Of the 36 Silver Quills awarded this year, 13 were Awards of Excellence, the top recognition given, and 23 were Awards of Merit. The region award competition included participation from more than 6,000 business communicators throughout the region. The campaign's primary objective was to increase the percentage of attendees at the leagues' annual meeting and convention in November in San Diego. The campaign also was designed to foster high participation. It encouraged members to "Find Your Turning Point" by attending the convention, and positioned it as an essential event for credit unions dealing with major changes in the industry. The conference saw an 11% increase in attendance from the 2010 event …

Woods re-elected chairman of First Carolina Corporate

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (9/6/12)--Scott Woods, president/CEO of South Carolina FCU, has been re-elected chairman of the board of directors for the First Carolina Corporate CU in Greensboro, N.C.

First Carolina Corporate serves more than 170 member credit unions in both states and operates with $1.5 billion dollars in assets, said a press release from South Carolina FCU.  

Woods serves on the boards for the Palmetto Cooperative Services LLC, the South Carolina ACH Association and Indirect Lending Services LLC. Woods also serves on the Community Investment Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and the Governmental Affairs Conference Committee for the Credit Union National Association.

Woods has been president/CEO of South Carolina FCU since 2004. Prior to accepting this role, he served as chief financial officer of South Carolina FCU.  

Other officers elected at the corporate were:

  • Vice chair--Scott Weaver, president/CEO, Carolina Foothills FCU, Spartanburg, S.C.;
  • Secretary--Randy Crawford, president/CEO, WNC Community CU, Waynesville, N.C.; and
  • Treasurer--Jack Braswell, Members CU, president/CEO, Winston Salem, N.C.

Mississippi makes strides with fin counseling program

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MADISON, Wis. (9/6/12)--REAL Solutions' enhanced version of the Credit Union Financial Counseling Certification Program (FiCEP) has helped place 59 CU financial counselors in 17 Mississippi credit unions after 18 months of work and implementing two programs.

Before that, there was only one certified financial counselor in Mississippi credit unions.

The program is a partnership among the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF)/REAL Solutions, Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) Center for Professional Development (CPD), the Mississippi Credit Union Association (MSCUA), and Mississippi credit unions to train staff who then provide professional financial counseling and education to members and potential members throughout the state, NCUF said.

MSCUA has marketed the program to credit unions and proctored all student exams. Tom McWilliams, MSCUA senior vice president, has led efforts to recruit students and to coordinate the proctored testing.

"Our graduates have emerged from the program with renewed enthusiasm, and new-found knowledge and skills to implement in their own credit unions. Our high FiCEP participation and graduation rates are an inspiration and a testimony to the commitment Mississippi credit unions share to be a partner in their members' financial future and success," said Charles Elliott, MSCUA president/CEO, noting that McWilliams has made Mississippi's success "a model for other states."   

Students used the CUNA CPD's FiCEP to study for their Credit Union Certified Financial Counselor certification. CUNA staff graded tests and issued certificates. Mark Lynch, REAL Solutions field coach, conducted eight tutorial webinars and two face-to-face training days during each of Mississippi's two programs.

Late last year, MSCUA released a short YouTube video highlighting FiCEP.  Use the link.

Hurricane tally Two dozen La. Miss. CUs with minor losses

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MADISON, Wis. (9/6/12)--Credit unions in Mississippi and Louisiana were nearly back in full operation in their recovery from Hurricane Isaac.

About two dozen credit unions--roughly 12 each in Louisiana and Mississippi--had reported damages from Isaac.

All credit unions in Mississippi were back in operation on Friday, according to the Mississippi Credit Union Association.

Of the roughly dozen credit unions that sustained damages in Louisiana, all but one were back in operation Wednesday, Connie Major, Louisiana Credit Union League executive vice president, told News Now.

Power at Louisiana league offices was restored in Harahan, La., was restored late Monday night. allowing staff to return to normal business hours on Tuesday, said the league (eNews Sept. 5).

"We made plans on Sunday (Aug. 26) to move a member of our management team to North Louisiana, away from the projected path of Isaac," Anne Cochran, league president/CEO said in the newsletter.

Immediately after the storm, the league contacted Louisiana-based and credit union trade media informing credit union members about the availability of shared branching outlets across the state and nation, Cochran said.

CUNA Mutual Group also reported no further damages had been reported Wednesday by its policy holders.

State Farm Insurance reported it received more than 16,780 claims in Louisiana and Mississippi, with more than 15,000 coming from Louisiana, primarily property claims and more than 3,500 auto claims, according to propertycasualty360.com (Sept. 5).

The Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Company Corp. said has received about 6,000 claims, of which 326 are commercial.

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said the department is getting calls from consumers--primarily questions about coverage and reporting claims--"but frankly, they are not ringing off the hook."

Filene report outlines eight i3 ideas

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MADISON (9/6/12)--The Filene Research Institute has released eight concepts devised by its i3 (Ideas, Innovation, Implementation) team in a new report.

The ideas, described in Filene's just-released "Key Findings: Blueprints for Innovation" report, are designed to solve pressing consumer and credit union problems, Filene said.

The eight ideas include:

  1. The Working Together Mortgage--A mortgage product that helps a first-time homebuyer obtain an 80/20 mortgage without having to have 20% cash for the down payment. It uses the equity from a relative's home pledged as part of the down payment.
  1. Pick a Dream--A consumer loan connected to a bonus savings account. Linking existing borrowing needs to savings gives members a convenient method to plan for the future while paying down debt.
  1. CU Pocket Banker--A smartphone application that members can use to contact and receive service from their credit union. The app provides members with a single point of contact, along with all the other features they expect through mobile banking, eliminating the need for multiple methods of accessibility.
  1. Cover Me--Text messages that notify a member when an item has been presented that will overdraw their account. Using existing technology, the text message gives the member the opportunity to authorize a transfer of funds from an external source to cover the presented item.
  1. The Retirement Positioning System--An interactive tool that helps members navigate complex investment rules, create budgets and consider alternative scenarios for planning and maintaining their income through retirement. Members enroll through an online portal and sit down with a financial expert, who goes through the member's income sources and expenses and sets up a portal.
  1. The Smarter Gift Card--A way to give recipients a starter savings account at a credit union and access to financial services they can use for years to come--the opposite of what a traditional gift card provides.
  1. The Student Loan with Benefits--A student loan that supports the student in finding employment and a career in their field.
  1. Flash Note--A mobile payment platform that the credit union member activates through a smartphone. The member selects the payment type, and a two-dimensional quick-reference (QR) barcode is rendered. The member presents the device at a participating merchant, who scans it using its existing infrastructure. The QR code becomes invalid immediately after use, and the transaction is placed in the member's online account history.
The open-source ideas are free to be used by credit unions, Filene said in the report. Each concept is scalable, but further testing is needed, Filene said.

CUs ATM doles out 50s instead of 20s

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (9/6/12)--Under the premise that nothing makes an impression like free money, Credit Union One, Grand Rapids, Mich., recently promoted  the opening of an new branch by giving some lucky consumers more money than they requested at the branch's ATM.

During July, random consumers who used the machine at the new Grand Rapids branch received a $50 bill instead of a $20 bill. About $2,000 was doled out to lucky recipients.

Many of the recipients visited the branch to report that they had received too much money, but they were excited when they learned the additional funds were a "thank you" for their patronage, Sharon Blower, Credit Union One branch manager, told the Michigan Credit Union League (Michigan Monitor Sept. 4).

Other promotional efforts included e-mail blasts, online banking notifications, flyers and Facebook promotions.

The credit union posted photos of recipients on its Facebook page during the promotion.

CU receives 40K grant from San Francisco FHLB

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SAN FRANCISCO (9/6/12)--An initiative by a San Diego, Calif.-based credit union is among 30 projects to receive an aggregate $1 million in grants through an Access to Housing and Economic Assistance for Development (AHEAD) program from the Federal Home Loan Bank (FHLB) of San Francisco.

University & State Employees (USE) CU was granted $40,000 for its Planting Justice: Re-entry Green Jobs Program in Oakland, Calif. The economic development program will train and employ men who were formerly incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison to build and maintain sustainable edible gardens. The program expects to create 50 edible community gardens at the homes of both full-paying clients and subsidized low-income households throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

The grant will subsidize wages for program participants and help pay costs for developing a training curriculum, purchasing tools and a truck, and advertising and outreach. Integrating a living-wage re-entry green jobs program with in-prison rehabilitation is expected to reduce recidivism, promote human rights and create healthier communities, said the FHLB.

The grants, which are made through the bank's member financial institutions, will be used by nonprofit organizations in Arizona, California and Nevada for projects and programs fostering economic development and promoting community stability and self-sufficiency.

This year, more than 184 projects applied for more than $8 million in AHEAD funding.