Most of us can agree that we didn't begin our careers with credit unions because it was a way to get rich but because the movement is something we believe in. We offer an empowering alternative that allows members to take control of their financial situations. Another key point, at least for me, is that we consider it part of our mission to improve the communities we serve.
However, this past year has left me questioning what the movement will look like in the future. Factors such as failing credit unions, NCUA assessments and now the potential loss of 70% or more of our debit interchange income threaten to alter the movement to which many have devoted their careers.
In the aftermath of the Dodd-Frank Act, I spoke with a number of people who questioned whether we should have expended so much political capital to fight the Durbin amendment. The recent Fed-proposed rule on interchange has me thinking that may not be the right question. Perhaps we should be asking if we really have as much political capital as we thought.
A recent article by Washington Reporter Claude Marx quotes former NCUA Board Member Geoff Bacino's comments on how credit unions do not have the same level of influence with members of Congress as bankers. Bacino may be on to something. The difficult road to passage for expanded member business lending and the recent success of the Durbin amendment underscore his point. This is by no means a reflection on the efforts of CUNA or the state leagues because I believe they have done a commendable job advocating on our behalf. However, it may be a time for reflection on whether we as individual credit unions have been doing all we can, politically and legislatively, to ensure the future health of our own credit unions and the movement as a whole.
I understand that the impetus behind the Durbin amendment was much larger than just credit unions and to some extent, we were caught up in the antibank furor that overtook the country. I also understand this was a multiyear effort on behalf of retailers to achieve one of their major legislative goals. However, I also cannot ignore the implications of what it will mean for all credit unions that rely on debit interchange income. I'm afraid that many credit unions simply did not think this would affect them or their members, but the proposed rule shows that with an essentially ineffectual exemption for small issuers, the potential loss of debit interchange income is significant. I can't help but wonder if the outcome would have been more favorable for credit unions and their members had we employed a more active and sustained grassroots effort in the years preceding consideration of Dodd-Frank.
As with any adversity, there is also an opportunity here. Credit unions should seize on the lessons learned during the debate over debit interchange and work to build stronger relationships with their members of Congress. Attending the GAC is a great start, but we need to go further-meet legislators at their district offices, speak with them at community events or even host them at our credit unions. Additionally, we should not be afraid to engage members and educate them on the effects legislation can have on their money. Like the many that have come before me, I've made an investment in the credit union movement. I think it is our responsibility to continue their legacy by ensuring that our investment continues to pay dividends.
The Crash Network is a grassroots organization of more than 100 young credit union professionals. Its activities include meetings, mentorships, online collaboration and development projects. Opinions expressed are the personal views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the credit union.
Nate Mu-iz is public relations manager for
Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union.