How I Took Action for the Best Interests of Credit Unions: I Resigned My Membership in a National Trade Group
I resigned my credit union's membership in NAFCU.
I did not resign out of some allegiance to CUNA. I did not resign because of one incident. I did not resign to save money.
I resigned because I believe the time has come for credit unions to place their resources, focus and control behind one national trade association.
The result of doing so, I believe, would be a much more powerful, concentrated and united credit union movement that could devote 100% of its effort and time toward gaining results for credit unions, rather than spending 50% to 75% at that effort--and the balance at warding off the (sometimes) parochial interests of "the other national trade association."
I believe the time has come to get the ball rolling in this direction, for these reasons:
-Shrinking Universe. Five years ago, there were about 10,200 credit unions nationwide. Today, there are about 8,500--a 17% drop over that period. True, credit unions have grown in assets and, at a slower rate, in membership. But the number of institutions has been on the slide for the past 38 years, and no end seems in sight. Other national interest groups are finding it makes more sense for them to consolidate their operations in order to conserve resources, focus the message or speak with a unified voice and/or message--or any combination of those reasons. The groups for stock and bond sellers is a recent example. Of course, so is the merger of the American Bankers Association and America's Community Bankers, announced in early July. Indeed, this merger should speak volumes to credit unions about how this national trend affects credit unions--especially since one of the stated goals of the banker merger is to better meet the challenge presented by credit unions.
-"Competition" Folly. Granted, competition in product/services, sports and school grades is a good thing that has served our nation well. And credit unions already have many organizations competing for their business in helping them provide products and services. But competition in advocacy--in this case, using competing ideas in an attempt to reach the same goal--is disastrous. The debacle is worsened in an environment where lawmakers are looking for just one reason not to take action (such as, to avoid offending another important constituency: The bankers). Some industries are divided into subgroups that have actual differences in policy views, and each pursues its different agenda. That's not the case in the credit union movement, where the two national trade groups broadly agree on the legislative agenda: Preserve the tax-exemption and gain more powers and flexibility for credit unions, including FOM flexibility, business lending, PCA reform, defend against CRA, etc. We may disagree on how much additional flexibility is desirable or feasible, but these are differences in degree, not kind. In this world, even small differences in emphasis will present Congress with divided voices, ones they can very easily ignore. I used to believe competition was healthy among trade organizations, but I am now convinced that competition in this case is counterproductive and not in the best interests of the credit union movement or our overall goals.
-One Voice. The most critical factor in legislative success is unity of voice. In fact, two of the biggest legislative successes for credit unions over the last 10 years--the Credit Union Membership Access Act, and the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act--were the results of a unified voice on Capitol Hill by credit unions and their representatives before Congress. But I fear that, as the two trade associations "compete" against each other for the blessings and memberships of an ever-dwindling number of credit unions (we lose one a day each day of the year these days), those episodes of "one voice" will become fewer in number, and their occurrences farther and farther from one another. Unfortunately, this divided approach will have the effect of stifling the progress of such vital pieces of legislation as the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act, now pending before Congress, merely because we cannot get our act together and speak as one.
As I said at the outset, this is not an issue of money, a specific incident or trade association politics.
The dues my credit union paid to two national trade groups was, admittedly, a serious chunk of change. But our credit union could and can afford it, if the dues charges are justified. I no longer think that they are.
And it is not just one incident that spurred my decision--although there have been a number of episodes over the past several years that have left me questioning whether the national trade groups were really working toward the same goals.
As for CUNA: I remain on the association's board, and have just recently completed my tenure as chairman. My leadership ambitions at the national level have been reached, and I speak on behalf of myself these days.
To that end, I will say this: During my term as CUNA chairman, I made it a priority to do whatever I could to bring NAFCU and CUNA as close as possible in working together for the best interests of all credit unions. I believe, at times, I was very successful in this effort.
But, too many times, I found success proved elusive. And, too many times, success slipped away as the result of one group attempting to "prove" its worth at the expense of the movement.
I have had enough. The credit union movement deserves focus, power and unity. Two national trade associations are not in our best interests. I took action to improve the interests of the overall credit union movement.