Interchange and Business Lending Have Credit Unions Tuned In and Turned On
The number of credit union executives from across the country that turned out on Capitol Hill for the interchange battle was very impressive, especially on such short notice and when travel budgets have been practically bled dry. More than 1,000 made the trek on CUNA's side hailing from 30 states, while NAFCU called their contacts "substantial." This turnout followed CUNA's fly-in in December, attracting 600 or so credit union executives to D.C. to push for member business lending legislation. Credit unions are demonstrating their understanding of the power Washington has over them.
But this time the fight wasn't about potential powers and income. This trip was about protecting something credit unions already have, which has been estimated around $2 billion in debit interchange income annually for credit unions in aggregate. Plus, an unknown amount of income is on the table through the provision allowing discriminatory card treatment by merchants.
CUNA claimed its members made more than 400,000 contacts with lawmakers, and many who did not attend the D.C. Hike were pounding the pavement in their home districts. A spokesperson called it "the biggest grassroots outreach we've had since the Credit Union Campaign for Consumer Choice in 1998."
Conferencing between the House and Senate began as deadline struck last week. Many credit union friendlies were appointed to the conference committee, including Reps. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), Paul Kanjorski (D-Pa.), and Ed Royce (R-Calif.). And, free-market advocates like Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) should help advance their cause.
The president was pushing for the completed legislation to be at his desk just days after the date of this issue. If credit unions, and others they have been working with, are unsuccessful?a strong possibility?it cannot be said they did not try. If the conferees do make a change to help credit unions, hopefully it will actually help since it will have to be thrown together at the last minute. And if the credit union lobby is successful, it will be quite the feather in its cap that they took on the retailers and won. Stay tuned.
No rest for the weary, however. Credit unions will be hopping from the frying pan into the fire as the House Financial Services Committee gears up for a markup of legislation to expand credit union business lending authorities. Once the financial services regulatory overhaul is out of the way, member business lending is expected to hit the committee's agenda within a couple of weeks. Kanjorski's legislation has been languishing since the fly-in late last year. However, outgoing CUNA President/CEO Dan Mica offered peppery testimony regarding credit union business lending during a hearing last month on a community bank small business lending initiative backed by $30 billion. Additionally a Treasury official has provided what he said the administration will back for well-capitalized credit unions.
When pressed though, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke turned out to be a wet blanket when it comes to expanding credit union business lending. And, the NCUA's inspector general found weaknesses in credit unions' business loan management as well as the agency's regulation of it. NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz has vowed to tighten oversight. Stay tuned.
As credit unions turn from survival (interchange) to focusing on competition and the future (business lending), so too are others. Michael D. Zinn, who is president of recruiting firm Michael D. Zinn & Associates in New Jersey, warned last week that companies are beginning to walk the tight rope of growth for the future's sake versus keeping expenses down as revenues are still depressed. "The war for talent is beginning to take shape," Zinn said. "Though serious thought is being given to keeping the 'cost to hire' at an absolute minimum, this too will change as the most talented people find themselves in demand.?Companies are beginning to realize that they need to once again compete for the best talent instead of merely watching their cost of doing business.?If they do not get the bench strength they need now, they will lose opportunities in the near future."
Credit unions would be wise to heed these words. As the economy turns around in the next few quarters or so, will your credit union be positioned for the opportunities that lie ahead? Good managers need to analyze current resources and near- and long-term forecasts to determine their resource needs?both human and otherwise.
The banks won't always be the cretins they're currently characterized as, so credit unions better have taken advantage of the banks' PR misfortunes. The same holds true for staffing. Many credit unions are better positioned than banks to reverse retrenchment strategies. Now is the time to further take advantage of banks' problems and hire the unemployed former loan officers and marketers cast aside by the banks. In doing this, credit unions can and should be picky, because there is a huge talent pool waiting for you to dive into, so credit unions have that luxury. That may not be true in six or nine months. Seize the opportunity to hire to develop new programs and products to serve your members and attract potential members. As it pertains to economic forecasting and HR trends, stay tuned.
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