UFirst FCU Rethinks the Role and Responsibilities of Its Directors
According to UFirst FCU Board Vice President Virginia Brady, like the majority of credit union boards, one of the greatest challenges in terms of governance is clarifying the role of the board.
"Determining the difference between the board role as a planning group and having maybe more of a division of labor, where the board needs to be more focused on planning and strategic goals as opposed to the day-to-day operations of the credit union is something we work hard on," said Brady. "It's important to make sure we don't get enmeshed in the responsibilities of the CEO or management team of the credit union. Those roles should be clearly delineated."
She added that the current model of board governance at UFirst FCU is a work-in-progress that is focused more on the future than being a part of daily operations. Inspired by a speaker at a directors volunteer conference last December who discussed how the board model has changed over the years, Brady began to rethink the role of credit union board directors. She shared the information with her fellow board members, and they agreed it was time to reexamine how the board fulfills its responsibilities.
As a first step the credit union has implemented a consent agenda so that routine items such as approval of the minutes will be discussed only if there is a concern.
"What we've done is encourage involvement and preparation prior to the board meeting, where the board really examines the items and what is covered in the consent agenda. Now we can spend more time on what is really the job of the board, which is strategic planning," said Brady.
She said prior to implementing the consent agenda, a lot of time was spent looking at the day-to-day operations of the credit union and reviewing everything from the treasurer's report, balance sheet and monthly income statement to a good portion of the CEO report.
"Concentrating on the future does not mean that we ignore what happens in the daily operations, and the agreement now among the board is that if any member has a question on certain items on the consent agenda, they can address it with the CEO prior to the board meeting," said Brady. "The CEO then has the opportunity to research the answers. and the board can take something off the consent agenda and onto the regular agenda if any board member feels it requires more discussion. It has really helped streamline the board meeting agenda."
Brady said the next step will be developing board evaluations.
"We're in the process of merging with another local credit union effective Oct. 1, and that particular credit union has job descriptions for their board, so we are looking at adopting and perhaps revamping them to make it our own," said Brady.
After the merger, the UFirst FCU board of nine will expand to 12 to include the other credit union's three board members.
"There is a real challenge in blending the two boards and getting a sense of how to form a new board culture and move forward in terms of strategic planning and objectives for the new merged credit union," said Brady.
She added that the job descriptions, which detail just what is expected of board members, can help better articulate the directors' responsibilities and focus.
"Our board evaluation is a work in progress, and we still have not determined what form it will take, but we think it will be simple initially rather than detailed as we get ourselves into the habit again," said Brady. "I guess it starts with a job description and looking at what kind of involvement from the perspective of committees, board education efforts and all those things that are part of being a board member and how we feel we measure up as individuals and as a board."