TAMPA, Fla. -- Tom Dorety, the CEO of the $5.9 billion Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union and the incoming CUNA chairman, sees days of challenge and opportunity ahead for credit unions as they seek to serve their members through one of the more significant economic downturns the U.S. has seen recently.
"On the one hand [the economic downturn] is a challenge because every one of our credit unions is going to see members who will be hurt economically by this and who will need their help," Dorety said. "But the opportunity comes from those same members and those same problems. This will be a chance for credit unions to have an even more direct and tangible impact on their members," he added.
Dorety, who has served with Suncoast for 20 years and as CEO since 1996, suggested that Suncoast was at one of the epicenters of the current economic situation as the CU and its members have seen property values on the southwest Florida coast plummet and suffered significant job loss as fallout from the economic side rippled through the construction, contracting, and service industries.
Dorety stressed that he didn't want to make it seem like Suncoast was suffering any more than other credit unions across the country but still wanted to make the point that times like these will help CUs demonstrate to their members the tangible benefits of being CU members.
He noted as well that the downturn comes at a time when credit unions, overall, have high reserves of capital and thus some additional reserves they can draw on to help members refinance very expensive and possibly predatory adjustable rate mortgages. He also observed that the press and some government officials have already taken note that as credit has largely dried up, credit unions are still lending.
Dorety said he expected to sign on as CUNA chairman for only one year, both because one-year terms have become the recent tradition for CUNA chairs, and because his own workload would not allow a longer commitment. Dorety pointed out that he is only the third CEO the credit union's 74-year history and that the position oversees a steadily growing and more active credit union.
The incoming chairman said he didn't plan to lead the association in sharply new directions during his tenure. He did, however, pledge to continue trying to push parts of CURIA and other regulatory reform measures forward, a longtime goal for both CUNA and NAFCU. But he cited the current economic situation as an additional argument credit unions can utilize.
"I am not sure that anyone sees CURIA as something that has to pass in one package," Dorety said. "But I think credit unions have a very strong case to move different parts of CURIA through the legislative process and into law," he added. Among these would be the parts of CURIA that address a risk-based approach to capital requirements. Adopting such an approach, Dorety said, could allow CUs to act more freely to use their existing capital to help more of their economically challenged members. He also mentioned the potential for additional sources of capital, acknowledging that the subject is controversial even among credit unions.
Dorety's other two priorities for his upcoming term included helping credit unions strengthen their identities as member-owned, financial cooperatives and helping them to keep growing, both in size by serving more members and in depth by serving existing members with more products and services.
"CUNA already has a seat on the board of the National Cooperative Business Association and I saw recently where some other larger credit unions have also become NCBA members," Dorety said. "We haven't done that ourselves, but I think overall it's a very good thing that will bring credit unions more allies and friendly organizations."
Dorety emphasized that the deeper identity as member-owned, financial cooperatives is an essential part to helping credit unions accomplish two directions of growth, both the service of new members and offering additional products and services to existing members.
"What we have found at Suncoast is that these two goals are not opposed to one another, but go hand in hand," he explained. "Opening a new branch will help us to draw new members but also to offer additional products and services to existing members who might not have been able to access them more easily."
Dorety suggested that there is room for credit unions to work more closely with regulators to ensure that CUs are making safe and sound decisions with their member's money, and also for CUs and to work with bankers--particularly community bankers--to help bring some "common sense" to Bank Secrecy Act regulation and enforcement.
Commenting on the handful of credit unions that got into trouble with bad real estate loans, Dorety noted that credit unions should not be terribly surprised that two CUs had been forced into receivership by bad lending practices and procedures, noting that there are some "bad apples" in every industry. To help counter this risk Dorety pointed to an opportunity for CUNA to work with NCUA and state regulators to develop and promulgate best practices that could guide and alert credit unions to risks of new products and innovative services before an examiner raises questions about them.
He also said that he had long believed there could be cooperation between banks and credit unions on topics of common interest, such as BSA regulation. "CUNA has already been working in this area and I think we need to keep working to help bring some common sense to BSA regulations and enforcement," Dorety said, suggesting that current BSA enforcement was a "one size fits all" approach to regulation and apparently had not tapped into the wisdom of tailoring regulatory resources toward the higher risk situations.