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CU System briefs (01/13/2010)

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* HARTFORD, Conn. (1/14/10)--Bookkeeper Melissa Laliberte, 39, of Wallingford, Conn., was sentenced Tuesday to 51 months in prison for embezzling more than $700,000 from the now-defunct Meriden Franco-American FCU. Laliberte also was ordered to pay restitution totaling $743,768 to the National Credit Union Administration and back taxes totaling $218,103. She pleaded guilty in September in a Hartford, Conn., federal court to embezzlement and filing a false income tax return. She admitted she took cash from members' loan payments, made unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts, drew her salary several times a month and used member checks to pay personal expenses. At the time the credit union went into liquidation on July 16, 2008, it had 206 members and about $337,968 in assets (Targeted News Service Jan. 12) ... * RALEIGH, N.C. (1/14/10)--The foundation for the State Employees' CU in Raleigh, N.C., is providing $500,000 for the North Carolina Museum of History's new SECU Education Center. With the SECU Foundation's support, the center will use cutting-edge technology, two-way video conferencing and virtual field trips to enhance permanent chronological presentation of the state's history to students throughout North Carolina. The grant will enable the museum to install technology needed to record and broadcast educational programs, lectures, seminars and meetings for dissemination across the state. It also will allow school groups that cannot visit the museum to participate in its programming ...

FBI issues Haitian relief fraud alert

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WASHINGTON (1/14/10)--Internet users who receive appeals to donate funds in the aftermath of Tuesday's earthquake in Haiti need to perform their due diligence before responding to the requests, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Credit unions might want to warn members that past tragedies and natural disasters have prompted criminals to solicit contributions that they claim are for a charitable organization or a good cause. Before making any donation, consumers should use these guidelines, said the FBI.
* Do not respond to any unsolicited (spam) incoming e-mails, including clicking links contained within the messages; * Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites; * Verify the legitimacy of nonprofit organizations by using Internet-based resources to assist in confirming the group's existence and its nonprofit status rather than following a purported link to the site; * Be cautious of e-mails that claim to show photos of the disaster areas in attached files because these files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders; * Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes; and * Do not give personal or financial information to anyone soliciting contributions; providing that information may compromise your identity and make you vulnerable to identity theft.
The agency said anyone receiving a suspicious e-mail or anyone who becomes a victim of such incidents should notify the Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3. To do so, use the resource link.

United Nations FCU to assist 500 members in Haiti

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LONG ISLAND CITY, N.Y. (1/14/10)--United Nations FCU (UNFCU), based in Long Island City, N.Y., is awaiting word on its 530 members in Haiti after a Tuesday earthquake caused massive damage to the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince. The $2.97 billion asset credit union does not have an office or branch in Haiti, Elisabeth Philippe, UNFCU business development/public relations manager, told News Now. No information has been received by the credit union about individual members, Philippe said. “Haiti was rocked by a major earthquake, resulting in massive devastation,” said the UNFCU website. “UNFCU is deeply saddened by this destruction and loss of life, including some of [our] fellow colleagues at United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and other United Nations (U.N.) organizations. News reports indicate efforts are already underway to help the survivors,” said the credit union. “We are currently working with the U.N. Staff Recreation Council in New York and will provide information shortly on how [people] can help,” UNFCU continued. “Additionally, UNFCU is providing support to its members and their families in Haiti via a specially designated telephone number and e-mail address.” More than 100 employees of the U.N. mission in Haiti were unaccounted for Wednesday in the aftermath of the earthquake, which destroyed the U.N. peacekeeper compound--a five-story building where roughly 250 people worked daily (CNN.com Jan. 13). The U.N. headquarters at the Christopher Hotel collapsed in the quake and people were still trapped inside, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told media in New York. At the time the quake struck, there were possibly 100 to 150 people inside the building, Ban added. UNFCU serves the financial needs of U.N. staff, U.N. special agencies, former international civil servants and their families globally. UNFCU has members in more than 205 countries and territories.

WOCCU announces disaster relief for Haiti quake

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (1/14/10)--The World Council of Credit Unions is attempting to contact local authorities and its own program staff working in Haiti to assess how best to help the estimated three million people who will be affected by Tuesday's devastating earthquake. Intermittant communications from Greta Greathouse, chief of party for WOCCU's Haiti HYFIVE microfinance program, indicate that WOCCU staff members are uninjured and accounted for. But Greathouse said there has been significant destruction to the island.
Click to view larger image Roughly three million men, women and children are affected by the earthquake in Haiti, said the World Council of Credit Unions. This photo was taken before the devastating earthquake. (Photo provided by the World Council of Credit Unions.)
The tiny island nation has 175 credit unions and 404,090 credit union members, according to WOCCU's statistical reports. Reverberations from the earthquake's epicenter, located 10 miles south of Port-au-Prince all but leveled Haiti's capital city. Hospitals have crumbled as have the presidential palace and the United Nations peacekeepers' headquarters (see related story on United Nations FCU's efforts). The death toll is expected to be in the thousands. It is likely credit unions are damaged. Last July, WOCCU launched a three-year program in Haiti to extend financial services to Haiti's rural poor with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The $34.4 million program is working to bring savings, credit and remittance products to underserved areas of Haiti and provide technical training to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. "The people of Haiti already had difficult lives, and it's almost impossible to imagine the devastation the earthquake has brought them," said Pete Crear, WOCCU president/CEO. "I'm thankful that our staff in Haiti is safe, and we're ready to assist them in their recovery efforts." WOCCU has fostered relief and rebuilding efforts during past international disasters, including the December 2004 Asian tsunami and earthquakes, the February 2006 Philippines landslide, and earthquakes in Peru, El Salvador and Malawi. WOCCU is now accepting donations to provide similar assistance to Haiti and its people. "We are committed to helping Haiti's citizens survive this crisis," said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer. "Donations to the Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions will help us achieve this goal." To support Haiti's credit unions and members through the international credit union disaster fund, make payments, via check, credit card or wire to: Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions Inc., 5710 Mineral Point Road, Madison, WI 53705, USA. Donations also can be made online with a credit card at www.woccu.org/give. For wire transfer information, contact Valerie Breunig, Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions at 608-395-2055 or via e-mail vbreunig@woccu.org. Please indicate the donation is designated for the Haiti Disaster Relief Fund. U.S. credit unions also can support WOCCU's relief efforts by donating through the National Credit Union Foundation's CUAid system, which has been activated at www.CUAID.coop.

FSCC changing address Friday

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SAN DIMAS, Calif. (1/14/10)--Financial Services Centers Cooperative (FSCC) is relocating its headquarters to the Ontario Airport Towers in Ontario, Calif., and will have a new address. Effective Friday, FSCC’s physical and mailing address will be:

2855 East Guasti Road, Suite 202

Ontario, CA 91761-1249

Phone numbers will remain the same at 888-372-2669 or 909-753-1200. Network support numbers are 800-509-1087 and 909-753-1201. The fax number is 909-394-3521. FSCC also noted that starting today through Monday, e-mails and phone calls to individual employee extensions will not reach the intended recipients. FSCC is a credit union Shared Branch network offering 5,500 deposit-taking locations in the U.S.

CEOs confidence grim--SW Corporate survey

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PLANO, Texas (1/14/10)--Credit union CEOs have never felt so grim about their current financial condition, according to Southwest Corporate FCU’s fourth quarter 2009 Credit Union CEO Confidence Survey. The corporate has conducted the survey for six years. CEOs rated their credit unions’ current condition at 17.84--the lowest in the survey’s history. The overall confidence index slid to 20.23 from 29.01 in third quarter 2009.
Click to view larger image Click for larger view
Assessment of financial condition six months from now also dropped by 14 points. CEOs’ expectation for loan demand dropped 11 points and expectation for share deposit growth decreased by seven points from the third quarter. “Many CEOs continue to be shell-shocked from 2009 events, such as a 35% rise in loan delinquency, a modest 1.6% loan growth, diluted capital formation and net incomes that neared industry lows,” said Brian Turner, Southwest Corporate director of advisory services. “Most will continue to face these challenges through the first half of 2010, as cash tills overflow from rising shares the first quarter and loan demand remains weak in the summer. “Credit unions certainly have reason to be concerned about the first half of 2010, but I anticipate many will see their profiles begin to improve by the third quarter,” Turner added. “Short-term rates most likely will bounce around, but steepness in the yield will continue to provide opportunities to retain some profitability. Gaining ground, however, will require each institution to remain proactive in its share pricing and employment of cash.” The survey measured CEOs’ confidence based on region and asset size. CEOs from Midwestern states were the most confident (41.07) while New England-area CEOs were the least confident (16.67). CEOs from institutions with $2 million to $10 million in assets were the most confident (35.19) while CEOs from institutions with fewer than $2 million in assets were the least confident (25). Second-best confident was the largest asset group--more than $500 million--at 25.86. Eldon Ladd, CEO of the $12 million-asset SECU FCU, Richland, Wash., said he could understand the findings. SECU FCU closed a branch one year ago and had more in reserves than it thought it would need to weather the economy. But a write-down in investment losses, charges from the National Credit Union Administration and first-ever bankruptcies in second mortgages, caused Ladd to characterize the last two years as a “financial tsunami.” The quarterly survey, sent to 1,324 credit union CEOs had a response rate of 25.08%. It measures CEOs’ views in six categories. Other categories include members’ current financial condition, members’ financial condition six months from now, credit union loan demand in six months, and credit union share deposit growth in six months.

BBB promoting holiday clubs with CUNA stats

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DALTON, Ga., and FORT WAYNE, Ind. (1/14/10)--The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is promoting Christmas Club accounts and using Credit Union National Association (CUNA) statistics to show credit unions’ participation. Georgia and Indiana newspapers have picked up the story, also using CUNA stats. Christmas Club accounts are traditionally offered at credit unions or small banks. They allow consumers to set aside money throughout the year into a savings account. Consumers can withdraw the funds in the fall to buy items for the holidays. The Dalton Daily Citizen (Jan. 12) and the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel (Jan. 11) noted that about 78% of credit unions offer the clubs, according to CUNA. Interest in the clubs spiked in 2009, the newspapers said. The BBB recommends that consumers “shop around” for their Christmas Club accounts. Interest rates may vary, the News-Sentinel said. Retailers also have begun offering the clubs.

Media tout CUs for college loans co-op biz model

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BALTIMORE and NEW YORK CITY (1/14/10)--SmartMoney and the Baltimore Sun touted credit unions’ college loans and cooperative business model in two articles published this week. College students feeling the credit crunch can find student loans at credit unions, according to SmartMoney. The magazine cited three credit unions--Southern Lakes CU, Kenosha, Wis.; West Branch Valley FCU, Williamsport, Pa.; and Merck, Sharp & Dohme FCU, Chalfont, Pa.--that offer private student loans. Many credit unions are stepping up to help after banks have scaled back, said the magazine. New York State’s Higher Education Services Corp. just added SEFCU, Albany, to its list of lenders. Roughly 20 credit unions have entered the market through Fynanz and 82 more credit unions have entered through Credit Union Student Choice, which processes loans and provides regulatory compliance, the magazine added. The average rate on credit union student loans is just above 6%. Sallie Mae, a major underwriter of private student loans, has rates ranging from 4.25% to 12.75%, SmartMoney said. In other news, The Baltimore Sun explored cooperatives’ business model as a way to empower workers Tuesday. The Sun noted that many national firms, such as credit unions, operate with a cooperative model. The United Nations has declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives, and is encouraging governments to collaborate with the co-op movement to create more productive societies and reduce poverty. “In hard times like these, the co-op model makes sense,” the newspaper said. “After all, public confidence in corporations, banks and the larger financial system is at low ebb, while unemployment is at its highest level in 25 years.”

Singing River FCU acquires Coastal Waters FCU

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MOSS POINT, Miss. (1/14/10)--Singing River FCU Tuesday said it completed its acquisition of Mobile, Ala.-based Coastal Waters FCU. The $138.1 million-asset, Moss Point, Miss.-based Singing River officially opened its doors Jan. 4 to $7 million-asset Coastal Waters’ former 2,000 members (al.com Jan. 12). The merger, which was approved by the National Credit Union Administration several weeks ago, gives Singing River 19,000 members and about $145 million in deposits at four branches, including the former Coastal Waters branch in Mobile, the website said. Singing River told the publication it now has 54 full- and part-time employees. The credit union is available to anyone who lives, works, attends school or goes to church in George, Greene and Jackson counties in Mississippi, and Baldwin and Mobile counties in Alabama.

Minn. CUs learn impacting politics via caucuses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (1/14/10)--Positioning Minnesota credit unions to be politically active in 2010, the Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) hosted a Political Caucus Workshop Tuesday.
Click to view larger image James Patrick Barone, chair of Minnesota's 4th Congressional District DFL party, Tuesday conducted a Political Caucus Workshop presented by the Minnesota Credit Union Network to teach Minnesota credit unions how to use caucuses to bring awareness to credit union issues. (Photo provided by the Minnesota Credit Union Network)
Let by James Patrick Barone, chair of Minnesota's 4th Congressional District DFL party, the workshop provided credit unions an overview of how to increase their involvement in local politics. Barone summarized the precinct caucus process and explained how credit union supporters can use these political forums to bring attention to their and their community's issues. Political caucuses have two main purposes, Barone explained. They:
* Elect delegates who influence which candidates the party will support; and * Provide citizens a forum to voice their views on a range of political issues. If the concern about these issues is prevalent enough, they may be included in the party's platform.
"The issues discussed at caucuses provide those running for office insight into what people are thinking and what is important to them," Barone told attendees. Through participating in political caucuses, credit union professionals and volunteers can bring the concerns of the movement to the attention of potential politicians. "Caucuses are a powerful political advocacy venue for credit unions becasue they provide citizens the opportunity to come together and push their ideals forward," said Mara Humphrey, MnCUN vice president-governmental affairs. "The movement's grassroots strength naturally lends itself to credit union involvement in political caucuses, and it is important that credit union professioanls and volunteers effectively utilize this political opportunity," she said. MnCUN hosted the political training as part of its continual efforts to equip credit union supporters with the tools to influence the political process. In October, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) conducted one of its Campaign Schools, which trains candidates on how to run for office, in Minnesota. CUNA has six more upcoming Campaign Schools scheduled, according to Trey Hawkins, political director in CUNA's political affairs. Four will be in Montana during the week of Jan. 25, and two in North Carolina on Feb. 2-3. For more information about CUNA Campaign Schools, use the resource link.