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Wisconsin banks introduce CRA bill including CUs
PEWAUKEE, Wis. (3/3/08)--A banker-backed bill that would require credit unions to document efforts to serve lower-income and minority consumers was introduced Thursday in the Wisconsin state legislature, but isn't expected to gain any traction, says the Wisconsin Credit Union League. "Not one valid study points to a need for more regulation of credit unions," said Brett Thompson, league president/CEO. "So why propose a new regulation, along with the significant cost it would mean to taxpayers--just for the sake of regulation?" The legislation, supported by the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA), has one sponsor--state Rep. Mark Gottlieb (R-Port Washington)--and was in response to a banker-supported study. The bill would apply to credit unions costly regulation similar to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which was enacted to make sure banks adequately meet the financial service needs of all segments of the communities they serve. That law was never applied to credit unions in Wisconsin. A recent hearing scrutinized banks' failure to satisfy the spirit of CRA, and Thompson said he suspects the new bill, AB 897, was introduced to deflect attention from that scrutiny. Although credit unions are not subject to CRA, statistics indicate they do a better job than banks in approving mortgages and providing basic services to low-income communities and to minorities. The league cited 2006 federal data in which Wisconsin's low-income mortgage borrowers' approval rate is 78.7% at credit unions and 48.5% at non-credit-union lenders. For minority mortgage applicants, the credit union approval rate in Wisconsin is 84.6%, compared with 55.4% at non-credit union lenders. Credit unions also operate 40% of all depository institution branches in the state's low-income census tracts. By contrast, 94% of all Wisconsin banks--including 12 of the largest 20--have no branches there. Bankers cite a 2005 study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) as support for the CRA push. But the same study shows Wisconsin credit unions outperformed Wisconsin banks for three years in providing single-family home purchase, refinance and home improvement loans. A recent study by the National Association of State Chartered Credit Unions concludes that credit unions do a good job of serving their members. "Wisconsin credit unions have a great story to tell about how they serve their communities," Thompson said. "If appropriate, they would look forward to the opportunity to share that story again with the legislature."
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