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Wisconsin regulator orders CU to stop used-car sales
RACINE, Wis. (4/10/08)--Educators CU (ECU), Racine, Wis., has been selling used cars to its members for nearly 10 years. A few weeks ago, the credit union received a ruling from the Wisconsin Office of Credit Unions ordering it to stop its used-car sales operation. “This was news to us,” Jim Henderson, ECU senior vice president, told News Now. “We fully shared information [about our sales] with the office.” ECU received a letter in December from the office saying a complaint that had been filed by the Wisconsin Automobile and Truck Dealers Association in November. The association stated that the credit union’s sales were not a part of its charter. ECU responded to the letter at the end of January, maintaining that it had been authorized to sell cars, Henderson said. Office of Credit Unions Director Suzanne Cowan confirmed the ruling to News Now, adding that the credit union would still be allowed to lease and repossess vehicles. The credit union plans to appeal the decision, and should hear back by summer. If ECU’s appeal is denied, the sales office could close its doors, or be sold to a third party, he said. The Office of Credit Unions Monday stayed its order. “They were kind enough to do that,” Henderson said. Closing its retail sales “would really be a burden,” and the credit union would have to lay off some of its employees and close the office, he added. ECU began selling cars with a credit union service organization in Milwaukee during the 1990s. The credit union parted with the organization in 2001, and began its own sales. About four years ago, it built a separate office for the car sales and sent the information to the Office of Credit Unions--which granted its approval, Henderson added. ECU also has a used-car dealer license and fully owns its auto business--ECU Financial Services Inc. Because ECU’s sales have grown over the years, Henderson said there may be some who wish to eliminate the competition. “We have a lot of reputable dealers in the market who are honest--we are not looking to bash them,” he said. “But the Automobile and Truck Association is definitely trying to eliminate a pro-consumer program.” ECU has a “completely different” business model than mainstream dealerships because it’s focused on serving members, Henderson said. ECU purchases vehicles wholesale, performs a flat markup, and shares the information with members. There is no haggling or negotiations, he said. ECU also provides a safety net. Members have a three day cancellation policy, which allows them to bring the car back in the same condition for a refund if they choose to back out of a sale. ECU also has a 60-day guarantee where the credit union will pick up the cost of mechanical repairs not covered under warranty. Though the sales bring in car loans, “We’re not looking to make money,” Henderson said. “We try to identify members’ needs and cars that fit those needs.” The credit union placed an item on its website last night, explaining the ruling to members. ECU is in communication with the Office of Credit Unions, and “we still enjoy working with them,” he said.
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