Reaching inside the credit union movement following the tenure of a prominent outsider, CUNA last week named California-Nevada Credit Union League President Bill Cheney as its new leader.
Cheney, who will succeed Dan Mica, CUNA CEO since 1996, has led the league since March 2006. Before that he was president/CEO of Xerox Federal Credit Union and was executive vice president of Security Service Federal Credit Union. He was on the board of U.S. Central Federal Credit Union at the time of its conservatorship last year and was on the board of Western Corporate Federal Credit Union from 1999 to 2005.
He has been named a defendant in two lawsuits in connection with his tenure on the boards of both corporate credit unions. The suit against U.S. Central alleges securities fraud and will be tried in federal court in Alabama this summer. The suit against WesCorp directors alleges negligence and breach of fiduciary responsibility. That litigation is pending in the state court in California.
The 49-year old Texas native said that while the economic and political environments pose many challenges for the industry, he welcomes the opportunity to help it rethink its vision.
"This is a good chance to step back and work with the board and see what direction we want to take things. The recent past has been difficult for CUNA and credit unions, but I am optimistic about the future," he told Credit Union Times.
CUNA declined to reveal Cheney's salary and benefit package. But in 2008, the last year for which CUNA has filed a report with IRS, Mica had a base salary and fringe benefits totaling $810,528; his bonus and incentive compensation was $667,393; his car allowance was $26,617; and his deferred compensation was $349,039.
John Dill, president/CEO of the Colorado/Wyoming Credit Union Association, said Cheney's operational and political experience make him a great fit.
"He has the broad range of experience that is needed. And that background will help credit unions deal with the biggest need that they have, develop a vision for the movement that will help them thrive at a time when they should be thriving even more, given the problems of other financial institutions," Dill said.
Cheney, who is scheduled to start his new job on July 5, takes the helm of the largest credit union trade group as it regains some of its strength that it lost because of the severe economic downturn. CUNA, which has an annual budget of $51 million and 240 employees, laid off 26 people last year and required all employees to take five days of unpaid leave.
Cheney said it was too early to say what, if any, personnel changes he will make at CUNA. But he emphasized that as a result of the especially poor economic conditions in California, he knows how to manage a trade association during difficult time. He cut the league's operating budget from $13 million to $9 million during his tenure.
In meeting the new challenges, Cheney brings a leadership style that is firm but open minded, said NASCUS President/CEO Mary Martha Fortney.
"He's a good listener and very deliberate. When you talk to him, the conversations are very interactive, and he doesn't talk at you," she said.
At the California/Nevada league, he has been active in formulating its legislative and political strategy at time of economic and political tumult in both states. The collapse of the real estate market in both states has caused major declines n tax revenues and that has triggered major budget shortfalls.
Since 2007, Cheney has contributed $18,950 to federal candidates and committees, almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Cheney's lack of experience in Washington isn't necessarily a disadvantage for CUNA, said former NCUA Board Member Geoff Bacino.
"You can pay to fill any void you have in Washington access. But it is harder to find someone who understands the credit union system and leagues," he said.
One issue that Cheney will have to deal with is how many voices the credit union movement will have in Washington. Though he emphasized that the decision must ultimately be made by people in the movement, he said there should be one voice for credit unions.
"Over time credit unions will feel like they should have one voice in Washington, but that's not something we will be able to force," Cheney said.
He is familiar with NAFCU, having served as an at-large member of its board for six years, including a stint as board treasurer, before joining the California/Nevada league.
But NAFCU President/CEO Fred Becker, who strongly opposes combining the two trade groups, said he doesn't see Cheney's selection as necessarily increasing the chances for a merger. "I know him well and look forward to working with him. But he served on our board a long time ago, and things have changed a lot here since then. We are a much different place," Becker said. "But I look forward to working together as partners on behalf of credit unions."
Cheney earned his bachelor's of business administration from the University of Texas at Austin. He and his wife, Christine, a high school college adviser, have a son and daughter.
He was chosen for the CUNA post from an applicant pool of less than 100. CUNA declined to say how many people were interviewed.