Time to Reset the Play Clock at CUNA and in Congress
The clock is slowly ticking down on Dan Mica's tenure at CUNA. There were rumblings back in August 2009 questioning why he was announcing his exit 16 months in advance. Well, now it's the spring of 2010 and the group still has not selected a successor. Replacing someone at the head of a trade association the size of CUNA and finding someone who can overcome Mica's persona cannot be easy.
I've already written a column on Mica's announcement so I won't belabor his strong suits-he's a politically connected and poised executive who is also a great public speaker and can handle the media. These characteristics have all served to the benefit of CUNA and credit unions.
But times are different now. CUNA's political acumen and awareness of credit unions on the Hill have expanded and should continue to. This is an ongoing effort that needs to be continuously cultivated and maintained. However, political connections can be secured by retaining Mica or someone like him as a lobbyist.
Given the significantly altered economic climate and the impact it has had on credit unions, it would be helpful to have someone who has worked inside a credit union and can truly comprehend the pain caused by particular legislation and regulation. Obtaining someone who can recognize and foretell the impact of economic trends would be a boon to CUNA as an organization as well as credit unions. But even these traits could be housed elsewhere on staff.
Experience running a trade association and all the nuances that go with it would also be a plus to the candidate. Someone running a trade association serves many constituents beyond the members, such as the board, members of Congress, regulators, the press and its own staff. The candidate should be able to field all their questions and concerns, debate the topics in a civil manner and perform the occasional dodge-and-weave maneuvers.
So CUNA's next leader must have just enough ego to not be afraid of Dan Mica's shadow for a while and to come out from behind it. The person will need the right demeanor to push members of Congress and regulators hard but not so hard as to offend and they won't work with you anymore. The same temperament will be necessary in dealing with all the various people the next head of CUNA serves. The chief will also need to know a little bit of everything and done a little bit of everything in the credit union community.
Keep in mind, the current situation is a somewhat new phenomenon for CUNA. Historically, its leaders have not left of their own volition, so the trade group is coming at Mica's replacement from a different perspective than it has previously.
Essentially, the winner of CUNA's corner office must be the consummate politician, business, orator and all around Renaissance man (or woman) of credit unions. No pressure on the search committee or candidates.
All of these things will be required if credit unions are to accomplish all the legislative and regulatory reforms they have before them now from member business lending to capital reform.
Lawmakers need to step up their game for credit unions, too. They frequently say how wonderful credit unions are, that they belong to one or more, and note how well credit unions serve their constituents, yet nothing much has made it into the end zone for credit unions since 1151.
There has never been a more clear opening up the middle to accomplish some of these goals for credit unions, yet member business lending still wasn't included in the jobs bill huddle, government-backed student lending has been sacked, and capital reform is sitting somewhere out on the sidelines.
Games can be exciting when good defense is played by both teams, but 12 years is exhausting. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me, the banking trade associations are consulted on every credit union bill that ever comes up. So if Coke is lobbying for something, do members of Congress proactively call up Pepsi to ask their opinion? The idea is ludicrous and the same goes for banks and credit unions, yet it persists. The only interest the banking groups have is holding back greater competition, and they have been reasonably successful. The problem isn't the bankers though. The problem is with lawmakers' asking the bankers what they want for credit unions, which compete with them. The current protectionist Congress couldn't do much better for their constituents than to allow credit unions to serve more people in more ways by expanding their authorities. The lawmakers, and subsequently the regulators, are credit unions' referees, not the banking trade groups.
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