Many people reading this column at CUNA's GAC have already seen the Little Guy. He's all over the place and quite a friendly fellow.
I applaud CUNA. I think they hit a home run with the Little Guy. Why? He's eye catching, different and a cartoon! What better vehicle to carry a message to Capitol Hill than a make-believe character. Heck, a lot of what goes on in D.C. can certainly pass for make-believe.
CUNA launched the Little Guy to combat a growing sentiment among lawmakers that credit unions are great, but "hey, watch out for those big ones, let's not have them grow too big."
It's unfortunate that any lawmaker would think this way. I know CUNA's message was about credit unions helping out the Little Guy as it relates to consumers and the tremendous job CUs do in serving their members everyday, but it's also good to remind Congress that credit unions are still the Little Guys. We all know the numbers. The $11 trillion banking industry towers over the $700 billion credit union industry. There are a handful of banks that have more assets than the entire credit union industry. Credit unions will never catch up to the Big Guy bankers in size or scope in any of our lifetimes.
Lawmakers should be reminded that credit unions offer lower rates and better yield on deposits for consumers, but that credit unions are limited by field of membership restrictions and capital options. The Little Guy credit unions grow capital through reserves; most Big Guy bankers can raise more capital in a month through public markets than most credit unions can raise in a year. (Why don't Big Guy bankers convert to Little Guy credit unions, it's the capital stupid!)
I don't know what the Little Guy will be telling members of Congress on his visits, but I hope CUNA tasks him with reminding Congress that the so-called large, expansive billion-dollar credit unions out there don't change because of size. Big credit unions may do more than small CUs, but they still operate with the credit union philosophy and more importantly play by credit union rules. They still give back to members through annual dividends, they still have volunteer boards, they still have strict capital limitations, they are still owned by their membership (and don't have shareholders!), and they are still wasting resources fighting the Big Guy bankers. Folks, do you realize CUNA has raised nearly $4 million in PAC funds in the last two years to fight the fight on Capitol Hill? That's a staggering amount! Good for CUNA and it is necessary, but surely that money can go to better use back at the credit union.
The Little Guy should also remind Congress that while Big Guy bankers like to rip the well-deserved, hard-earned credit union tax-exemption, there are over 2,000 Subchapter S banks out there that reap huge tax benefits. The bankers have found their way around taxes, it's not what the fight is about.
If I were puppeteering the Little Guy on Capitol Hill he would be laughing most of the time because the bank attacks are just so funny. As their attacks have continued to intensify over the years, bankers have experienced record profit after record profit! It's laughable that bankers make their case against credit unions yet they've never been more profitable! How much more do they want?
So as we all walk around GAC and visit lawmakers this week, never forget that the credit union argument is as strong as it has ever been. And we can thank the bankers for that. Bankers are high-fliers, they are outperforming themselves every year; talk about victims of their own success. They should enjoy their success instead of traipsing out the credit union battering ram everyday.
Back to the Little Guy. He's great because he's got a good story to tell, whether it's credit unions serving everyday consumers, many living paycheck to paycheck, or reminding Congress that the credit union industry's fractional share of the nation's small business lending market and its 100 or so billion-dollar credit unions do not a Big Guy make. Credit unions are the Little Guys and Congress should never forget it. Oh and it doesn't hurt that the Little Guy has a wallet full of political capital to take with him on his trips to Capitol Hill. That capital is made up of not only large PAC coffers, but 88 million credit union members.
As Dan says, "Isn't it great to be in Washington?"
P.S. Don't forget to stop by the Credit Union Times booth (516) to pick up your "Proud Credit Union Supporter" bracelet before visiting Capitol Hill! --Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org