Local News

War Between Banks and Credit Unions Wages On

Posted June 10, 1998 7:00 a.m. EDT

— One side waves the banner of "choice". The other waves one of "fairness". The war wages on between the banking industry and credit unions. They continue to squabble over whether or not credit unions can stay tax-exempt without regulation and still compete with banks for customers.

In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against membership expansion of credit unions. Last month, the House of Representatives passed a bill favoring credit union growth. Now the Senate must make the final decision.

"There's still hope on the banker's side of things. That it can be amended to make it a little bit more of a balanced bill," said Paul Stock, vice-president of the North Carolina Bankers Association.

Thursday, the credit unions' campaign to win grass roots support in order to influence Congress centered around automatic teller machines, and the issue of surcharges paid to use them.

To take money out of a bank's ATM, where the user has no account, it usually costs $1.50 or more for the convenience. Non-profit Credit Unions say their surcharge-free ATM's are a perfect illustration of why they need to grow in the market place, to serve more customers of modest means.

"They don't have the dollars to maintain the minimum balances that are required by other institutions," says Larry Johnson, chairman of the N.C. Credit Union. "They don't have the dollars to pay these excessive ATM charges."

Customers of some banks pay no ATM fee when using one that belongs to their bank. That, says leaders of the banking industry makes surcharges a non-issue with customers.

At stake, according to Stock, is a level playing field.

"There are a substantial number of credit unions that really are bank-like," says Stock. "They're a bank in everything but name, taxation and regulation."

Together, banks in North Carolina have $10 billion in assets. Credit unions in the state only hold 2 percent of the financial services market.

The Senate is expected to deal with the credit union issue after the first of July.