MEDIA, Pa. -- Nearly 20 years ago, a high school reunion became the backdrop for Guy Messick's reputation for building collaborations.
Messick, who serves as general counsel for the National Association of Credit Union Service Organizations, also heads has his own law practice, Messer & Weber, P.C., a firm serving mainly credit unions and CUSOs. Back in 1987, the Philly suburb native reunited with a classmate who was serving as a board member at the newly formed NACUSO. His friend was looking to start a mortgage CUSO and Messick offered to help and he hasn't looked back since.
"He knew I liked to play golf, so we played and eventually, I started attending NACUSO conferences. I thought it would be a good fit," he recalled.
In the beginning, Messick's services were "gratis and a nice diversion." As the CUSO concept began to take off within the industry, the new entities sought out the attorney for assistance in a number of areas. It was in the late 1980s, that his firm began to build a predominantly CU clientele. Today, Messick works with roughly 100 CUs in a consultative role.
Messick didn't initially have aspirations to go into the law field. It was a rigorous course in college that all but stopped his thoughts of becoming a doctor.
"Ever since that second week of organic chemistry, I decided not to go into medicine. I think the class was used to weed out people like me," Messick mused.
Messick changed his major to international relations thinking he wanted to be a diplomat, but that path never arose. Eventually, he started developing a fascination with the law and set out on that path, graduating from Bucknell University and earning his law degree from the University of Miami. He has been an attorney since 1978, practicing at various law firms, as a clerk for a federal judge in Seattle, in the district attorney's office in Pennsylvania, in litigation and as a public defender.
"It can really wear you down," Messick said on conversations he has with friends who currently work in litigation.
Meanwhile, another one of Messick's high school buddies worked for the British Petroleum Refinery. His friend brought him a paper on credit unions and "that's when I started learning," he remembered.
"What became evident is there was this untapped collaborative. It's amazing what people were doing for free as volunteers," Messick said. "I thought that had to be preserved. If you lose that collaborative surge, it seems to me it would be difficult to replicate [the credit union philosophy]."
As Messick's link with NACUSO became stronger, for five years, the firm would have a separate conference in Philadelphia just for clients tied to the association. Over the years, clients have used Messick's services as strategic partnership agreements, he said. While most attorneys structure their fees on an hourly or project rate, Messick's clients are on a monthly retainer.
"They call us when they need us. We try to create a consultative atmosphere as opposed to a transactional atmosphere," Messick said.
Because of the number of contacts Messick has built over the years including service providers, he said conflicts of interests are never an issue when it comes to making recommendations. To that end, he educates everyone involved on what will be the friendliest terms for all parties be it ensuring member protection or privacy issues. He encourages credit unions to make sure that their needs are being addressed from the onset so that they can get to market easier. "As I see CUSOs becoming larger and more multi-credit union owned, it has become figuring out structurally how to make those partnerships work," Messick said. "In the industry, we've had a lot of experience with successful and unsuccessful ones." Messick's handprint on a number of success stories is indeed impressive. He's helped several CUSOs get up and running including his current client, Ongoing Operations, the business continuity and disaster recovery company, and CU*Answers, the data processing and computer network support firm. Messick and CUSO Member Gateways, LLC, are working with Zopa, Ltd. a company in London that has developed a "peer-to-peer" agreement that allows individuals to lend and borrow directly between themselves. The gist is borrowers, whose creditworthiness is thoroughly checked, according to the company's Web site [www.zopa.com], can potentially get better rates. The plan is to bring the model exclusively to United States credit unions, whose role would be to make the lending offers.
It's these alliances--international and domestic--that set credit unions apart from their competitors and still remain key for survival, Messick said. But he acknowledges barriers can easily break down collaborations.
"You have to reward good efforts in a way that appeases everyone," he offered. "The problem with most partnerships, be it doctors, lawyers or credit unions, is someone feels they're not being treated right."
Forming these alliances also helps when there's a wealth of resources to tap and models to follow. Messick is currently updating his firm's Web site, www.cusolaw.com, to bring even more specific examples of CU and CUSO collaborations and updates on regulatory issues, among other inclusions. For the past year, Messick had helped put together monthly podcasts where industry people are interviewed on a number of issues. The sessions can be downloaded on iTunes.
When he's not making the consultative rounds, Messick heads outdoors to unwind. The father of three and former Bucknell football player, recently vacationed in New Zealand and is an avid skier, golfer and runner. When his daughter studied in Australia through her college's exchange program, Messick's visit there included a five-mile hike through the wilderness. He drew the line at bungee jumping. One of his sons recently earned the credentials to become a stockbroker. Some of Messick's CU affinity rubbed off on his other son--he's an assistant branch manager at Franklin Mint Federal Credit Union.
Messick applauds NACUSO for its mission and just couldn't see himself in any other field.
"I really like the people. The people are genuine. There is a creative side where you can help credit unions create value and benefits the for-profit world has a hard time putting together," Messick said. "Having the not-for-profit model coupled with the cooperative service credit union culture is a great combination. --firstname.lastname@example.org