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Bankers mute attack on credit unions

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The long war of attrition that has been the Utah Bankers Association vs. its old nemesis the credit unions has not been as visible here this week at the UBA's 90th annual convention as it has in past years.

That's not to say that the bankers have changed their minds about what they see as the favored status and unfair competition from the credit unions; they haven't. But the podium pounding has been muted so far in the convention. Apparently, the Utah banking community has decided to take a less strident approach to the volatile issue, at least for the time being.On Monday, the UBA held a closed meeting in the Sun Valley Opera House to hear the results of a survey recently conducted for it by Salt Lake polling firm Dan Jones & Associates. It wasn't closed to the bankers, of course, just everyone at the convention who is not a banker, including this reporter.

Howard M. Headlee, UBA president, downplayed the secretive nature of the meeting and the public poll, saying the association simply isn't ready to have the results of the survey made public as yet. If it doesn't indicate that the public supports their stand against the credit unions, it may never see the light of day.

In his remarks prior to the closed meeting, outgoing UBA Chairman Robert A. Hatch, president of community banking for First Security Bank, discussed his leadership team's efforts last year to make the bankers' case to the community, specifically through meetings with the editorial boards of Salt Lake's two daily newspapers.

He praised the editorial stance on the banks vs. credit unions taken by the Salt Lake Tribune but said he would "temper" his criticism of the Deseret News' editorial on the issue due to the presence in the audience of this reporter. That editorial favored leaving the credit unions alone.

Hatch noted that, whatever happens with current legislation in Congress and a lawsuit in state court that the UBA has filed against the credit unions challenging the geographic "common bond," the issue will not be resolved on his watch.

"It would be easy to give up on this fight, but it would be wrong to do so," said Hatch.

He emphasized that the banks are not afraid of competition from credit unions, as has sometimes been alleged, and he has no patience with those who believe "profit" is a four-letter word.

"Based on the fear-mongering of the credit unions, I'd say they are the ones who are afraid of competition," said Hatch.

Headlee said the tax-exempt status of credit unions "never leaves our front burner."