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New election is optimal option for Optiva
Iowa City Press-Citizen
February 20, 2007
[Note: This material is copyright by the Press-Citizen, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Iowa City Press-Citizen.]
The University of Iowa Community Credit Union Board made the right choice when deciding to hold a new election Feb. 28, the day before it was scheduled to change its name to Optiva. The board didn't have to do it -- the previous Oct. 4 election already had been approved by the Iowa Credit Union Division, and the petition contesting the election was signed by less than one-third of 1 percent of credit union membership base. But the new election allows the credit union to move forward without an asterisk forever lingering next to Optiva.
Credit unions are businesses; they take people's dollars, and they compete in the financial marketplace. But, as explained on the UICCU Web site (www.uiccu.org), a credit union is also "a cooperative, not-for-profit financial institution organized to promote thrift and provide credit to members." Because they are member-owned and controlled through a board of volunteer directors elected by the membership, credit unions are designed to be businesses that benefit their members rather than make a profit.
In order not to limit the number of members, UICCU's elected board and hired staff announced last fall that they wanted to change the name -- losing the regionally specific modifier, "University of Iowa Community," and gaining the non-geographically-tied and linguistically-indeterminate title, "Optiva."
Since the announcement of the name change, the term "Optiva" has been teased both lovingly and angrily by letter writers ranging from UICCU employees to the former poet laureate of Iowa ("I remain optivamistic about the outcome"). A quick Google search shows that the name already is in use as a product development software, a nanotech company, a manufacturer of a sonic toothbrush and a small, San Diego-based mortgage company.
The razor-thin margin in the Oct. 4 election approving the name change has kept the issue charged. The recent petition specifically refers to some, but not all, credit union members being allowed to vote earlier than the designated time period. The state Credit Union Division called such a practice "unconventional" but determined that it did not nullify the election.
The petition required the board to hold a special membership meeting on the subject, but it did not necessarily require a new election. Because the board -- with member and state approval -- has the right to change its name to anything it wants, it could have decided to hold a meeting to explain why a new election was unnecessary.
Instead -- as Jeff Cox points out on today's Opinion Forum page -- "the integrity of the credit union board has been reaffirmed by its decision to hold a new election instead of looking for legal grounds to evade, avoid or ignore the member petition." The board probably should have come to this decision months ago, but at least now the members themselves can decide whether hanging on to the "University of Iowa Community" modifier is worth the hundreds of thousands of dollars already spent on new signage, stationery and marketing for the Optiva name.
Whatever the member-owners decide to call their institution Feb. 28, we hope the decision is clear and that both sides abide by the results.
Petition focused on voting issue alone
There is a great deal of misinformation being circulated about the petition for a new election at the University of Iowa Community Credit Union, especially in the credit union's full page ad published in local newspapers and in Tim Taffe's Feb. 15 guest opinion. The petition to the credit union board concerned only one issue: The failure to follow Iowa rules governing credit union elections in the Oct. 4 member meeting. Although Iowa law clearly states that members must be present at the meeting in order to vote, an unknown number of members arrived early and were mistakenly allowed to cast their ballots and leave before the meeting began.
The petition has nothing to do with conspiracy theories about merging with a bank and contains no attacks at all on the integrity of the credit union management and elected board. In fact, the integrity of the credit union board has been reaffirmed by its decision to hold a new election instead of looking for legal grounds to evade, avoid or ignore the member petition. On Feb. 28, member/owners will be able to attend the meeting and vote yes or no on the new name with full confidence that correct voting procedures will be followed. That's what democracy is about, and whatever the result of the election, the credit union will emerge stronger.
Credit union board deserves thanks
I would like to give the University of Iowa Community Credit Union's board a big and public "thank you" for deciding to honor the petition that was filed with them and promptly hold a second election on the proposed name change.
The text of the petition that 143 credit union members signed (printed on today's Opinion Forum page) asked simply that a new election be held as Iowa law provides. The petition did not make any of the offensive statements that appeared in Tim Taffe's Feb. 15 guest opinion. If the petition had contained them, I think it would have gotten few, if any signatures -- and certainly not mine.
The proposed new name would not be unique, because "Optiva" is already being used by another mortgage company and several commercial products, so I will vote "No" on Feb. 28. However, the credit union board has renewed my faith in the democratic process, whatever the election's outcome, and for this the board has my respect.
Optiva is everything UICCU is not
Warm thanks to the Univeristy of Iowa Community Credit Union board for listening. When I opened an account more than 20 years ago, I chose the credit union because member/owners seemed to matter, which is just what the board has confirmed by scheduling the Feb. 28 member election on the proposed name change.
At that meeting, I believe I'll be voting against the new name. "Optiva" is everything the credit union has never been. It's slick, paltry, full of marketing smack. Try as I will, I can't see it on my checks.
Yes, the bank's services and personnel will remain in place, but it will be like coming home to a house painted orange. Everything inside may remain the same, but who can bear a daily exclamation point?
Still, the credit union's board has set a remarkably attentive example, particularly in scheduling a forum at which more members may be heard, more members may listen.
Time and place of vote was inconvenient
I thought the last vote was at an extremely poor location. Also the time was less than ideal for anyone with families.
After finding out that some members were allowed to vote prior to the election, I was upset because I would have loved to have been given that option. I think the name stinks. How much money did they spend and came up with Optiva? Couldn't they come up with an original name in light of the fact that there is an Optiva Mortgage company?
This time, I'm going to try to get all my stars aligned and make it to the Highlander Conference Center by 6 p.m. Feb. 28. I hope they allow children, because I'll be bringing mine along.
October election didn't have 'hoopla'
I've been a member and an employee of the Univeristy of Iowa Community Credit Union for 18 years. No one threatened or pressured or paid me to write this letter, just as no one threatened or pressured or paid me to attend the meeting to change the credit union name in October.
I saw no "hoopla" that Tim Taffe refers to at the October meeting; only the board and management's rationale and reasoning for the name change. That rationale was the opportunity to provide services to a wider range of the communities the credit union serves. As stated at the October meeting, many folks here in Johnson County as well as other communities and counties the credit union serves, don't believe they can join the credit union because they are not UI employees. The name change eliminates this misconception.
I have yet to hear any rational explanation for going back to the UI name, only emotional appeals, name-calling and impugning the integrity of volunteer board members, many with associations to the university. The board members receive no personal gain from the change. They are fulfilling their elected responsibility to act in what they believe is the best long-term interest of the credit union and its membership.
Now, at the last minute, a petition comes forward in an attempt to halt the change. As Taffe wrote, money has been spent on signage and stationery following the approval of the change by the Iowa Superintendent of Credit Unions. The irresponsible action at this point would be to attempt to turn back the clock because of an irrational fear of change.
A name change is only a name change
It frustrates me more than I can express to know that some people are losing sight of what a name change is. The University of Iowa Community Credit Union isn't going to become a bank; it isn't going to stop serving its members and their communities. In fact, more people will likely join because they'll know they can.
What's great is the new members will be able to receive the same great service that I have received over the years by the existing staff members. No changes there. My account numbers aren't going to change, and I don't have to get new checks or debit cards. I know because I asked a member of the credit union staff.
It's simply bogus to make statements, as in Tim Taffe's guest opinion, that try to confuse people into thinking the credit union has lost its integrity or tried to "stuff the ballots." I would encourage everyone who would like to know the facts to visit the credit union's Web site and to read its "open letter to the membership." I know many members love the name -- I do, too -- but we should all try to support Optiva.
UICCU has to spend money to counter lies
I have followed the credit union's story closely -- attending annual meetings, reading items in the paper, and reading the UICCU's correspondence via newsletter and Web site. I also attended the member vote last fall. First off, from my perspective, nothing that Tim Taffe purported in his guest opinion was true regarding that meeting.
I also wonder what the people were told before signing that petition. My guess it was not about a name change. I've spoken to others that claim they were told it was about UICCU converting to a bank. Wow. Yet another misleading statement. They had about 150 signatures -- that represents one third of one percent of the membership. Yet Taffe claims to speak on all members' behalf.
My question is simple: How much is my credit union paying for full-page ads, time wasted and probably legal fees to correct Taffe's misinformation? There should be a special member vote, and it should be to remove his membership from my credit union.
A name is the small stuff not to sweat
There is a popular philosophy that relates here: "Don't sweat the small stuff." The name is the small stuff. The big stuff is service and community involvement. Bigger yet is the long-term vision for growth. Some people seem so caught up in their self-created hype that the original point is lost behind inaccurate statements with the potential to mislead the uninformed.
In his guest opinion, Tim Taffe criticizes spending money on a "cavalier escapade." Cavalier can be defined as negligent or reckless. This is neither. Status quo rarely equals success; businesses that stand still will be bypassed. The money spent should equate to further growth of the cooperative. This growth is likely to offset the original cost. The credit union has seen unprecedented growth the last give years and has experienced some its best growth in history since the October vote.
The author indicates that the people of River City don't love the name Optiva; they "hate it." That goes past the point of expressing an opinion and assumes to express the opinion of others hoping to make it appear that it is credit union management against everyone else.
Suggesting that members were not adequately notified of the October vote is laughable, as is the assertion that there was no oversight of the counting. The accounting firm of McGladry & Pullen was charged with overseeing the vote.
As a credit union member and employee, I can say that our credit union will still be here March 1. The board and management that has led us to success will be here. The employees that provide the best service around will still be here. The only change will be the name. The name is the small stuff that we really don't need to sweat. The credit union is strong and will be no matter the name. Those who are strongest support and succeed during change.
Univeristy of Iowa Community Credit Union Board
Iowa City Press-Citizen
February 20, 2007
World-class service, great rates and caring staff ... These things have been the hallmark of your credit union for the past 70 years. They will be the hallmark of your credit union for the next 70 years as well.
As many of you know, the credit union received a petition from 143 of our 45,000 members requiring a special meeting be convened to vote again on the name change. In accordance with our bylaws, a meeting will be convened Feb. 28.
In much the same way the credit union has demonstrated exemplary service to the membership, it has also upheld the highest levels of integrity over the years. To claim anything to the contrary would simply be misleading. The vote that took place Oct. 4 had no "stuffed ballot bags" as the name change balloting and voting process used was in accordance with every state and federal rule and regulation known to the credit union. In the days immediately preceding the vote, several members opposed to the name change asked if they could vote between 5 and 6 p.m. at the meeting. In response to these members' questions, the credit union contacted the State of Iowa Credit Union Division, whose executive officer indicated that those members could be accommodated.
In summary, the credit union followed all applicable rules and regulations, and in the only area of ambiguity (allowing members to vote from 5 to 6 p.m. at the meeting) acted at the express oral advice of the Iowa Credit Union Division.
At the same time, we should also note that voter credentials were checked, voter lists used and oversight completed through McGladrey & Pullen, LLP. No absentee balloting was allowed, in accordance with the State Code of Iowa.
We realize there have been questions with respect to the uniqueness of the name "Optiva." With the guidance of a national trademark attorney, we've filed for both state and federal trademark applications for the use of the name "Optiva" in the insurance and financial services classification of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. No other company offering similar products has filed for trademark protection in the nation.
We also realize that with some of the attention on the subject, some people are wondering if the credit union's business has fallen off since Oct. 4. The answer, in short, is not at all. In fact, since the members approved the name change on Oct. 4, the cooperative's deposit base has grown $30 million, loans are up $30 million, and the pace by which new members are joining the cooperative is up 20 percent compared to the same period last year.
At the same time, several members have asked, "Why not choose a name that makes reference to the area, such as Johnson County Credit Union or Eastern Iowa Credit Union?" The credit union intentionally chose a name that made no reference to a specific geography because it's difficult to predict who we may be serving in 10, 50 or 100 years. Choosing a name that conveys a limited field of membership would eventually lead us back to the situation we find ourselves in now in which members are confused about their eligibility to join because they don't "fit" the meaning of the credit union's name.
Other points to share:
• Absentee and proxy ballots were not used in the voting process because the Iowa Code does not permit their use when amending Articles of Incorporation.
• The University of Iowa does have a vested interest in the ways the credit union markets itself and conducts segments of its operations. Should the credit union remain with its current name, the university will continue to ensure that our operations are consistent with the use of the UI name and brand.
• Other than changing the name of the cooperative, the name change has no effect on the credit union's charter. The board has absolutely no intention of becoming a bank and is proud of our commitment to the cooperative philosophy of people helping people. The credit union has no plans or intent to be merged or acquired by any other financial institution.
World-class service, great
rate and caring staff ... These things have been the hallmark of your credit
union for the past 70 years. They will be the hallmark of your credit union
for the next 70 years as well. Come out and vote for Optiva on Feb. 28.
The board of directors for the University of Iowa Community Credit Union includes Eldean Borg, Fred Mims, Charles McComas, Charles Mason, Laura Reed, Duane Thompson, Jean Harney, Tom Lepic, Kenneth Moore and Karin Franklin.