Do CUNA and NAFCU Have to Get Along?
The credit union industry is like a big family. Travel to a few conferences throughout the year and you are likely to see many of the same faces, whether they are credit union leaders from vendors, trade associations or credit unions themselves. People generally get along and enjoy working in the credit union world. I love the harmony. It's a friendly, cooperative industry. Even arch rival vendors seem to understand that they exist for the betterment of credit unions, not to rip each other's throats out. Newcomers to credit unions are often surprised by how willing credit union leaders are to share information. Credit unions routinely discuss successful initiatives, whether it's a new underwriting technique or marketing campaign, with their fellow credit unions without fear of giving away trade secrets. That doesn't happen nearly as much in the banking sector. But it isn't all warm and fuzzy. One of the best places to see that is trade association politics, namely the relationship between CUNA and NAFCU. For many, CUNA is the big dog, the power player. CUNA strives to be a "world class trade association [CUNA's words]." It has the upscale office on Pennsylvania Avenue in view of the Capitol. It is run by a former U.S. congressman and is the top link in the chain of the state credit union league system. CUNA's clout on Capitol Hill has been impressive. NAFCU is the smaller, some may say feistier trade association. It resides in modest offices in Virginia on the outskirts of D.C. NAFCU digs into the nuts and bolts of any regulation that has any chance of affecting credit unions. I always viewed NAFCU as more of the regulatory expert and CUNA the lobbying player. But NAFCU is also a force for credit unions on Capitol Hill. CEO Fred Becker is hands-on with legislative issues and NAFCU brought in a top lobbyist from America's Community Bankers to beef up its lobbying team. NAFCU played a role in the recent Bernie Sanders' GAO study request on bank profits, Subchapter S banks and costs of the S&L bailout, so NAFCU's political prowess is proven. Unfortunately, NAFCU has also lost a lot of lobbying talent in recent years and just last week another NAFCU lobbyist, Debbie Kwon-Moore, left the association. Kwon-Moore didn't just leave NAFCU, she moved over to CUNA. On the face, there's nothing wrong with that. Talent within any industry often shifts from organization to organization. NAFCU has also always had to battle the fact that CUNA pays better. Change hits CUNA too. We saw that last year when two CUNA lobbyists left for positions with NCUA. But in the small world of credit union lobbying, the shifting of a lobbyist from NAFCU to CUNA can be a big deal. NAFCU needs to move fast and make some personnel changes to existing staff (which to its credit it has already done, see page 8) and seek out new lobbying talent to fill the vacancy. NAFCU and CUNA do not agree on some key credit union legislative initiatives, so Kwon-Moore will have to change lobbying gears on a few of them. How the Kwon-Moore hiring was handled is another window into the CUNA/NAFCU relationship. A high-level CUNA executive or lobbyist should have made a courtesy call to Becker or a top NAFCU lobbyist to inform them of the hiring. Did that happen? Yes, it did, but according to some sources, the hiring was handled rather sloppily. Add the fact that Murray Chanow left NAFCU's lobbying ranks last month and you have to wonder if this is a case of CUNA kicking NAFCU when it's down on the lobbying front? Maybe, maybe not, but you can certainly make that case from a 30,000-foot view. If you really start speculating on the CUNA/NAFCU relationship, things like CUNA scheduling Hike the Hill visits during NAFCU's Congressional Caucus or CUNA moving its annual conference closer to NAFCU's annual conference all of a sudden become more than a coincidence. And these moves go both ways. Ask a lobbyist of either trade association who deserves credit for a particular legislative or regulatory win and you will get very different answers. So do CUNA and NAFCU get along? Do they have to? It's no secret that Mica and Becker have been worlds apart on a few major legislative issues and some insiders contend the two leaders don't like each other. The good news is they don't have to be best buddies to succeed on Capitol Hill, but they do have to work together. Credit unions cannot afford to have their two major trade associations battling on an organizational or lobbying level. It is great to have two voices lobbying for credit unions, and I think a merger of CUNA and NAFCU would be a colossal mistake, but they do need to be more in sync on the blockbuster issues. CUNA and NAFCU should reflect what their member credit unions want, and credit unions want the same things on Capitol Hill. Credit unions have to remember that they should have a big influence on trade association policies. One notable difference in the banking lobby recently has been a more coordinated effort among the three banking trade associations. They have been on message with their credit union attack, and it has clearly helped them politically. Credit unions need that too! CUNA and NAFCU trying to one-up each other to impress their members or get headlines doesn't help credit unions. We know CUNA and NAFCU can work together. They joined forces for passage of H.R. 1151, but that was considered a do-or-die bill. Maybe it's time for the trades to wake up and understand that credit unions are in a do-or-die period in Washington. They have to coordinate to get things like risk-based capital implemented, and to help Congress see the light on the need for credit unions to do more business lending. Has the CUNA/NAFCU coordinating committee really been coordinating since H.R. 1151? I think not and I think credit unions should call for a more united front for the sake of everyone. As for any personality differences at the top, get over it and get the job done. Just like credit unions exist for their members, trade associations exist for their member credit unions.
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