At the recent National Association of Credit Union Chairman's annual meeting in Baltimore, the idea of board member diversification drew heated comments as it pertained to age. The agency and others, including this blogger, have been encouraging credit unions to recruit people of varying ages, educational background, ethnicities and genders to credit union boards.
Some at the conference expressed concern that they couldn't get someone with an IT background or marketing or HR up to speed on financials within the NCUA's proposed 90 days. I'd have to disagree; the NCUA isn't asking IT and HR specialists to become CPAs in that time period. All the agency is seeking with its proposed reg is a baseline understanding of the financials at the credit union. And, just because someone doesn't crunch numbers all day for a living doesn't mean they can't understand the financials if they want to.
My question: who would want to take on all the liabilities that come with serving on the board of a financial institution without that kind of knowledge?
In the diversification discussion, age was a hotly debated topic. One gentleman who was probably old enough to remember the signing of the Federal Credit Union Act noted that NCUA Board Member Gigi Hyland is traveling all over the country telling boards to get a more diverse cross section of their memberships to serve, including age and ethnicity. It seemed this volunteer took it as a personal affront to wipe out all the white men over 65.
That is absolutely not what she's saying. I don't want to put words in Board Member Hyland's mouth, but I've heard this speech and it's about being inclusive rather than exclusive. It's about keeping some of the more senior board members who are active and educated on modern issues at financial institutions. However, qualified people who happen to be younger are needed to back fill these positions as existing board members leave the board either by choice, illness or death. This will sound harsh, but is the credit union supposed to die with the older board members who don't want young whippersnappers on the board or have these folks discovered eternal life? The new generation of board members will need the experience on the board, serving with the older members in order for the industry to survive.
Of course you don't just bring people in because they're young, as a couple of the chairmen suggested was being advocated. The message would be better received if it comes from other seniors serving on the boards rather than young, female executives such as Board Member Hyland or myself. I heard it at the NACUC meeting from many of the attendees. Keep it up so your voices are heard by the others! It's a message not against institutional knowledge but for the future.
Aggressive recruiting in the right places can help. Think outside the credit union. Provide board nomination marketing collateral to MBA candidates at local colleges or even send someone from the credit union to guest lecture in a business or accounting class.
I know my 35-year-old neighbor is being recruited for our board by an existing board member; this is an excellent start. This work is vital to a sustainable credit union model.