Home Commentary NEFCU/VSECU Binding Arbitration and Class Action Waiver

NEFCU/VSECU Binding Arbitration and Class Action Waiver

Image of VSECU brick building with rounded front entrance.
VSECU Montpelier branch. Photo courtesy VSECU, Creative Commons.
All members of the Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU) presumably received the notice from the New England Federal Credit Union (NEFCU) effective Sept. 5, 2023, stating, in short, that all VSECU members who do not formally opt out by Oct. 5 will have accepted the terms of the included Binding Arbitration and Class Action Waiver. I am aware of no prior notice that this was coming. The agreement takes away our rights to individually sue or join in any legal action against VSECU or NEFCU, or whatever they call themselves, as recently merged institutions. 

The only exceptions to this agreement are collection actions between account holders and the lender and actions involving a member in military service. The procedure to reject this agreement is a formalized procedure described in the small font of paragraph g therein. The opt-out procedure is not secure. It asks for information via email, fax, or the U.S. Postal Office that risks exposure of personal financial information to third parties and, coincidentally, is already in the lender database. This procedure especially surprised me given the data breach experienced a few years ago within VSECU. Also, the opt-out period is short. You must opt out by Oct. 5 or be bound.

This agreement provides that all disputes be submitted to binding arbitration through JAMS, www.jamsadr.com. JAMS is a virtual arbitration service. It offers no in-person proceedings and has no offices in Vermont. It puts conflict resolution into the computer world, and there are no appeals to JAMS binding decisions.

When I asked why this waiver came about, I was told that NEFCU feels this is a way to protect members from increasing class actions against financial institutions. Initially this made little sense to me, since any class action allows its members to participate at whatever level works, whether sitting back and waiting for the outcome or being active and participating in and attending proceedings. 

Second, this waiver removes our individual rights to sue and represent ourselves. There is no protection greater than we already have. We always have the right into the future, on a case-by-case basis, to not participate and opt out in such actions. As Kim Cheney, past VSECU board member and former Vermont Attorney General, said in a recent Front Porch Forum post, this is “corporate balderdash.” 

It is also, in my opinion, misleading and another move on NEFCU’s part to monopolize on the merger with VSECU, operate corporately, and remove any and all vestiges of our previous small town banking experience, as well as our constitutional rights to a court of law. This kind of move is what the opposition to the merger feared. It is not transparent and, as one Front Porch Forum post recognized, forces members to have to read “between the lines.”

I’m told that the merged board of NEFCU and VSECU is heavily weighted with NEFCU members. This means our VSECU votes are, according to Cheney, “diluted” and possibly what has been the “corporate intent” all along.

Please, pay attention to this waiver notice, opt out before Oct. 5 and help us save our VSECU institution from falling full on into a corporate black hole.

Dot Helling lives in Adamant and has been a VSECU member for over 50 years.