Credit unions serve the public interest

July 21, 2013

In response to the recent article regarding credit unions and their competition ("Banks take fight to credit unions," July 17): Yes, credit unions have seen substantial growth in membership and use of credit union products and services as more Americans have moved to credit unions as their primary financial institution. Why? Service first followed by rates. But don't confuse our federally approved "tax-exempt" status as not paying taxes. We certainly do, to include payroll, property, etc., just not income or sales.

Why not? Because Congress in 1937 saw credit unions as serving the financial needs of citizens, not just the under-served, not those of "small means," but all citizens. Yes, we have expanded beyond just car loans and loans to replace the water heater, but why? Because our members have asked for those products and services. I sat at the dinner table several years back at a networking event with CEOs from a number of influential companies. When the head of one mid-size bank found out that I was a chief executive officer of a credit union, he started proclaiming the unfairness of credit unions' tax exempt status to the group using the standard cliché of not being a "level playing field." I let him go on and finally stated that if he thought it was so unfair, hurting the bank's bottom line, why doesn't he consider converting to a credit union? Total silence — and the conversation moved on.

Fred Becker, the retiring president of our federal trade association, stated it as well as it could be when he said credit unions are just adapting to changing times. If the banks, primarily the larger banks, just spent more time serving their customers and letting credit unions serve their members (which, by the way, also own the credit union), they might be more successful in retaining their accounts.

I can't help but add that in the past few days just about all banks have announced significant increases in earnings and dividend payment to their owners — the stockholders only.

Richard T. Webb

The writer recently retired as president and CEO of Atlantic Financial Federal Credit Union.

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