Norman D'Amours got the chance Thursday to do something near and dear to his heart: help out a credit union. When it's a very small credit union that caters to low-income people with special needs, so much the better.
That's a pretty good description of the UCB Credit Union, located in the Murray B. Allen Center for the Blind, to which D'Amours and Reps. Karen Shepherd and Bill Orton, both D-Utah, presented a check for $50,000, a loan to bolster member services.D'Amours is chairman of the National Credit Union Administration in Alexandria, Va., the source of the UCB loan. A Clinton appointee, D'Amours is to the nation's 7,500 federally chartered credit unions what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is to the banks.
Credit unions have been growing rapidly in recent years, something that seriously irritates bankers who view them as unfair competitors who they contend are expanding beyond their traditional "common bond" membership while not sharing the tax burden of banks.
D'Amours understands that position but has no sympathy for it.
"The banks are expanding nationally - Congress has just passed an interstate bank branching bill - and they are seeking to eliminate as much competition as they can," he said.
Credit unions, says D'Amours, were created early in this century to provide financial services for people who didn't have access to traditional lenders because they had little money and the financial institutions thought them to be poor credit risks.
"But banks are now catching on to what the credit unions have known all along," said D'Amours. "Lower-income people are much better credit risks than the banks ever suspected, and they think maybe now they can do business with them."
D'Amours concedes that most people don't think of their credit union as some kind of benevolent uncle ready to make loans to people that others turn away. Most think of the credit union as, well, their bank.
That's true, said D'Amours, but there's more to it than that.
"If the public perceives us as just another bank," said D'Amours in an interview, "then we haven't been getting our message across to the public. I believe our credit unions need to redirect, rededicate and re-emphasize their roots. They were founded to provide credit to people of small means who had no access to normal credit markets. That's the beauty of the movement."
That was just one of the messages D'Amours said he intended to take to Park City Friday night, when he was scheduled to speak at the Utah League of Credit Unions' Fall Institute.
The league was to consider a proposal to limit interlocking boards of corporate credit unions and a final rule for credit unions that wish to convert to another type of financial institution.
The interlocking rule would place a degree of separation between corporate credit unions - which provide financial services to their member unions - and credit union trade organizations such as the Utah league.
D'Amours said the NCUA is proposing a rule to prevent such leagues from also running the central banking system, something he characterized as "unsafe and unsound." He said about half of the 44 corporate credit unions are closely tied to their state credit union leagues, but Utah is not one of them. The Utah League of Credit Unions and the Utah Corporate Credit Union operate separately.
As for credit unions wanting to convert to something else, a savings bank for example, D'Amours doesn't like the idea and wants any such conversion to require NCUA approval.
What about banks that might want to convert to credit unions? Welcome aboard, he grins.
"Any banker who feels he or she is getting the short end of the stick, I say, `Come on over. You can do anything we can do.' But they don't want to, because we don't operate for profit. They do."