ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- The first thing that jumps out at you looking into the office of Gary Kohn, senior policy advisor to NCUA Board Member Gigi Hyland, is that he is definitely a Yankees fan.
However, once you enter and turn to view the rest of the room, there are photographs, shot by Kohn, from his travels such as the sun setting over the Dead Sea. He and wife of "32-very-happy-years", Niki, enjoy traveling and Kohn records it all in still photos.
While he seems a well-rounded person, Kohn said, he wanted to "round out my credit union experience." He said that much of his work over his nearly 13 years at CUNA focused on the legislative side though he had some contact with regulators and helped analyze how regulations fit into law. "It was not a huge jump for me because I had been doing some of that already in my old job," he said. "I was accompanying the regulatory affairs staff to meetings with the NCUA Board and staff members...And, in the legislative realm, a lot of what I did required research into regulations and discussion of regulation and tried to view how you make that transition from legislation down to regulation."
Kohn knew Hyland from their CUNA days and when she approached him he "felt like it would be a lot of fun" and he "welcomed the change and the challenge." He explained, "When I came over here, I had the feeling credit unions were at a bit of a crossroads at a fairly crucial period given the attention that credit unions have garnered both on Capitol Hill and off of Capitol Hill." The infamous Ways and Means hearing presented a challenge, as well as the marketplace, which the agency may not necessarily directly impact. However, he clarified, "There certainly is a lot there we can do that hopefully can help credit unions to thrive and prosper." "In the one year that I've been here, there's been a lot accomplished already," Kohn said, adding that there is a lot more ahead, and this year should prove very exciting with Hyland facilitating an early Access Across America program workshop and chairing Outreach Task Force. To get more familiar with the regulatory side of credit unions' universe, Kohn and Hyland first took a bottom up look at the agency. "You often hear from people who will come up to us on the road and, for example, say, 'we hear a lot of policies and discussions are coming out of Washington, but they don't always filter down to the exam level.'" The duo figured there were two sides to the story and so wanted to determine the best possible way to communicate with examiners "what this particular board member's priorities are and her ideas about particular regulations and policies."
The examiners all took the Myers Briggs personality test and found 85% of examiners scored identically as a certain personality type, Kohn explained. "And we took it and both of us kind of being people persons and strategic thinkers and political kind of thinking, scored almost the opposite of what they did," he said. Not that one is better than the other, but it could help everyone better understand how others view things. He emphasized that will be a continuing effort of theirs.
Kohn is also serving as a member of the Outreach Task Force that Hyland is chairing. He commended NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson for initiating the working group. "There was a recognition that it's fine to have a report you can give to Congress but that shouldn't be the last step," he said, and there is nothing to say the board will follow through with recommendations in the report.
"I think the strategy we've outlined so far is one that will get us to the best place possible to put the agency in a position to determine whether or not there needs to be anything further done," he explained. "There's no pre-judging here, everything is on the table. The parameters of the task force we think are fairly broad. It goes beyond the recommendations in MSAP; the GAO report had a couple recommendations as well." The task force will be covering predatory lending alternatives, taking a fresh look at NCUA's Office of Small Credit Union Initiatives, and the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund and where it fits in, Kohn said. "So we think that there is a lot of room for the agency to take a fairly strong look at where it's at in this area. Through the town hall meetings and other informal meetings that we'll be holding during this whole process, we're anticipating gathering a lot of good information through the input from the other interested parties." The MSAP has generated a lot of interest on the Hill, he said.
When asked if he missed lobbying, Kohn replied, "I still use the same skills that I used then, let's put it that way." He continued, "The beauty of coming over here is that I was ready for a change and this permitted me to get to that point while retaining a lot of the knowledge and contacts that I had before so it really helped me." Kohn can still leverage the relationships he built while at CUNA and they know where he is coming from.
"You really have to look at it differently," he said of the shift from advocate to regulator. "One of the primary responsibilities of a regulator is you have to make sure credit unions are acting in a safe and sound manner because of the insurance fund. But, I don't think that precludes you from being somebody who believes that a safe and sound system will occur if you have healthy institutions and the health of those institutions often stems from their ability to serve their members. For it to be possible to do that, it means you have to have the appropriate products and services."