Did You Really Mean to Say That?
So before I slice and dice some things that have been uttered in the credit union movement, I'll fess up to my own folly. NCUA Director of Public and Congressional Affairs John McKechnie's taste for trivia detected that I had attributed "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" to the Big Bopper rather than Jerry Lee Lewis. My apologies.
Also under the category of "what did you just say," NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker stated during his annual conference last week that credit unions need to look out for each other. You might think, OK, credit unions are cooperatives so that sounds fair.
But that's not what he meant. He meant that credit unions should "look out" for each other, spy and tattle on credit unions that are "messin' where [they] shouldn't have been a messin'" (Nancy Sinatra, John). Becker told me his reasoning was that, in the end, all credit unions pay for it just as credit unions are paying for some credit unions and corporates' missteps now.
Yes, this is the downside to a cooperative movement. And credit unions do have a responsibility to each other. That responsibility is to not royally screw up. Blaming credit unions halfway across the country for not noticing that a Colorado credit union was participating in sham real estate deals in Florida is absurd. This type of 1984 mentality would lead to nothing but rumor mongering and conjecture that would waste not only credit unions' time but also the NCUA's and state regulator's resources at the worst possible time. Worse, what's left of credit unions' true cooperative fire would be doused with a cold, large bucket of suspicion toward colleagues.
Already overtaxed credit union executives with Blackberries holstered at the ready 24/7 do not have the time to worry whether another credit union is making some backroom deals. They have their own members to worry about and their own business decisions to make. Ensuring business decisions are sound and above board is primarily the responsibility of a credit union's executive team and its board of directors. How a credit union handles its business, such as its risk tolerance for indirect lending, should be extremely tailored to the field of membership and management style, which may not be well understood by an outsider. At the same time, if a credit union had solid evidence of fraud at another credit union and did not report it, shame on them.
If anything, trust is the basis of this cooperative movement-trust that CU executives and board members are taking their jobs as seriously as you do, that the regulator is doing its job and that the dues-supported trade associations are keeping watch over it all.
In an address I gave a while ago at the Metropolitan Area CU Management Association, I asked the audience how many performed due diligence on their third-party vendors, and every hand in the room went up. Then I asked how many performed due diligence on their trade associations and a curious "oh" kind of sound rippled through the room.
So the next can-you-believe-it comment came from the Connecticut Credit Union League last week in a bulletin to its members. Using the term "priority message," the league stated: "PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND TO NAFCU CALL TO ACTION." The bulletin goes on to say: "Any grassroots efforts at this time are not appropriate and may be counterproductive as this issue is awkward to advocate."
The Connecticut league, an affiliate of CUNA, is appropriately working the issue regarding the timing of credit card statements and using its influence with a key member of the Senate. Upon speaking with league CEO Tony Emerson, he explained that the league has been in nearly daily contact with Sen. Dodd and his staff, who were willing to work with credit unions on the issue but specifically asked not to have a large grassroots effort. Meanwhile, NAFCU Senior Vice President Jay Morris reiterated that its members asked for a grassroots effort, so their Connecticut members were contacted. He added that NAFCU was not averse to working with state leagues.
Emerson added that he was aware of the tension between CUNA and NAFCU at the federal level, but he did not have anything personally against NAFCU-only that this particular effort ran counter to the Senate Banking Committee chair's express wishes.
However, a more constructive effort for both groups would be to coordinate efforts. This very concise message clearly underscores the trades' tripping over one another and provides ammunition to those who believe the national trade groups should merge.
If the trades are bumbling about with blinders on, then they're thwarted from their mission, which is representing you.
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