On Jan. 30, 2000, a man who knew little about credit unions except what he read about the movement from the inserts that came in his Navy Federal Credit Union statements took over as president/CEO of NAFCU. Since then, Fred Becker has found himself knee deep in a range of challenges facing the credit union movement, including the effects of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. He's also faced management challenges at the association. Credit Union Times recently talked to Becker at NAFCU's Arlington, Va., headquarters about his tenure.
Credit Union Times: What have been the high points of tenure?
Fred Becker: Building on the achievements that [the previous NAFCU President/CEO] Ken Robinson had during his tenure. Nobody will replace Ken in terms of what he meant for the movement and his personality, his ability to make the person he was talking to feel as if they were the only person in the room. But we've done many things to build on what he did. We've kept the association's competitive edge in compliance, where we are considered to be the leader. We've added educational programs, for example, we now do 18 Webcasts a year, and we open our events to all credit unions. We've taken our lobbying to a new level, and our lobbyists are regularly mentioned among the most influential on Capitol Hill. We've also grown our political action committee. When I started, we gave about $40,000 in each cycle, now we exceed $200,000. And we've done these things while watching costs. We have the same number of employees as when I started. And our budget has only increased from $8.6 million to $10.8 million, 22%, compared with inflation, which was 28%.
CU Times: What have been the biggest changes in the movement during your tenure?
Becker: There is more and more competitiveness, in part because of the consolidation, and some erosion of the cooperative nature. Also, I find now that some issues that only affect a few credit unions-rather than the industry as a whole-percolate up to the top to be solved more often than they used to.
CU Times: How have the legislative and regulatory landscapes changed?
Becker: When I came, credit unions were already the most heavily regulated financial institutions but the regulatory burden has increased even more. And as Congress and the White House work on proposals to increase regulations even more, we've had to work hard to call attention to the fact that we didn't cause the crisis and any additional compliance costs come out of our members' pockets and not from shareholders.
CU Times: What has surprised you most about the job, since you were knew both to credit unions and to being a CEO?
Becker: The enormous breadth and depth of the job. You have to be a bit of an actor and get on stage at conferences, but you are also a teacher, a businessman and a lobbyist. And sometimes you have to switch from one role to another quickly. Also, you are on call all the time and members expect a quick response. I was driving to the hospital one night recently to see my first granddaughter, and while on the way, I was talking with a CEO about the CARD Act. Because I am expected to have substantive answers to questions, I am doing lots of reading and constantly making assignments to my staff to get me more information.
CU Times: What changes have there been in how you spend your time?
Becker: I am spending a lot more time on the business side, given the challenges that trade associations have had to deal with recently, because of the economy. Fortunately, we've navigated the situation better than most. Also, I used to write the legislative and regulatory updates for our members myself, but I now have other people do them.
CU Times: How long do you expect to stay in the job?
Becker: Ken was here until he was 70 and a half. I won't be here that long. I'm 60. In the Navy, you get a new job every two or three years, and I have been at this one 10 years. I am not sure when I will leave, but when I do, I will get out of the way and not stay around in the movement in some consulting capacity. Perhaps I will teach at a law school, since a part of my current job is teaching, and you wouldn't have to persuade me hard to do that. And my wife will be glad to have me out of the house.