May the Best Narrative Win
Recently I was researching Senator Chris Dodd's financial reform bill. In an article on TheHill.com, I found this ad right in the middle of the page:
I wondered, "Why are banks lobbying so hard to keep this guy unemployed?" and clicked through to a website by the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues. The introductory text captures the purpose:
Credit unions have the ability to create over 108,000 jobs and inject $10 billion into the economy with the passage of H.R. 3380 or S. 2919; without costing the tax-payer a dime! Banks are working aggressively to halt the passage of this legislation and making outrageous claims to prevent credit unions from creating main street jobs...
H.R. 3380 and S. 2919 are the House and Senate bills proposing lifting the member business lending (MBL) cap. Jeremy Empol, the Director of Federal Grassroots Advocacy, explained this was just one leg of an ongoing and ambitious campaign to reach Congress at every possible level to push meaningful reform.
The MBL debate, regardless on which side you stand, is one that illuminates the broader challenges facing credit unions. Even if you are not a member business lender, debates such as these have a significant impact on the perception of credit unions.
There also is a powerful narrative that is the antithesis of the credit union story. This narrative is not powerful because of the quality of the arguments, but because of the organization, efficiency, and efficacy of the storytellers. The American Bankers Association (ABA) has launched a campaign against lifting the MBL cap. The ABA provides an email template for bank executives containing recommended text for executives' to email to their representatives. A small sample of this template follows:
...Increasing commercial lending authority is inconsistent with the historic mission of credit unions. Credit unions were created to serve low- and moderate- income individuals who did not have access to financial services. For that reason they were given an exemption from federal and state income taxes.
The less you participate in the telling of your story, the more others dictate your story to you.
Storytelling is an ongoing process. The first step is supporting organizations that advance the right narratives. Staying in the microcosm of member business lending, the California and Nevada Leagues are proactively leveraging local media and individual member business stories to reach Congress. In a broader context, Callahan & Associates recently wrote a letter to President Obama -signed by 263 credit union industry professionals - and hosts CreditUnionsRising.com, a platform to impart change in the credit union industry.
Individual journeys also play a compelling role in the narrative. Paul Stull of Arizona State Credit Union makes regular contact with Representative Ann Kirkpatrick through email, phone calls, and in-person visits to reinforce credit unions' potential meet constituents' small businesses and legislative obstacles. This is the same level of activism that may be called upon of any credit union leader.
Our success was due to our ability to both build a relationship and tell the credit union story. Ann understands us and so does her staff. That made it much easier to gain the needed support. Representatives like Ann Kirkpatrick are interested in helping the people who live in their district. Credit unions all have unique stories to tell and letting members of Congress know those stories is the key to our success. We are both in the business of helping people, finding that common ground is the best fit for credit unions and members of Congress.
Elliott Kashner, industry analyst for Callahan and Associates, submitted this blog entry.