Fostering a Culture of Continuing Education Starts at the Top
Given the fast pace in which the world changes, never has the need for continuing credit union board education been greater.
According to Deborah J. Davidson, vice president of governance research/publication at BoardSource, creating a culture of education goes hand in hand with a culture of evaluation and assessment and that commitment has to start at the top with the chairman and CEO.
"If the chairman doesn’t care about continuing education, then no one else will because he or she sets the tone," said Davidson. "As far as evaluation, the board should be looking at its own performance annually and individual skills/knowledge assessments every two years. As you compare progress from the prior two years you’ll get a clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the board, which can then be addressed with more education."
Davidson added that it also helps to make education a priority when it is on the agenda, clearly stating what education opportunities will be explored throughout the year and even scheduling small governance moments at each board meeting.
For Phil Ouellette, who is immediate past chairman at Citadel Federal Credit Union and second vice chair of the National Association of Credit Union Chairmen board, it’s the opportunity to learn and participate that he enjoys most as a board member.
At the Thorndale, Pa.-based credit union, the board publishes an educational calendar every year and board members select which educational opportunities they’ll attend that year. They also pick a meeting they’ll cover at the national and state level. At the end of the year, board members complete a report stating what they’ve done, so it’s easy to track where the board as a whole stands in terms of educational needs.
"We try to manage an active online list of topics suggestions from the board and generate a top 10 list and quarterly ask the board to drill it down to the top five, and we make sure we set some time aside in the meeting to address the top two and that has been working well for us," said Ouellette. "As far as meeting the education requirements, we simply ask our board members to do some kind of equivalency in a way that is convenient to them whether it be a seminar, Web-based modules, conferences, a facilitated meeting, etc. That way they remain engaged in the education process."
At CoastHills Federal Credit Union there is a similar atmosphere of "knowledge is power, but only if it’s shared."
"I think the primary key to successful training/education is the commitment to continue to learn and we are indeed fortunate to have a group of individuals who fully support this commitment, and who recognize that training/education that will best benefit the credit union," said Hugh Rafferty, CoastHills FCU board chairman and board secretary for NACUC. "There is a continuing open dialog between the board/supervisory committee and the CEO/senior staff. Questions are encouraged, and answers are always substantive."
He added that formal education ranging from conferences to government rallies is left for the most part to the individual unless there are requirements set down by NCUA or CUNA. In addition to these conferences, the Lompoc, Calif.-based credit union maintains a full library of VLP and VAP courses, and also encourages online training via NCUA/CUNA, CUES, or other external resources. In addition, board supervisory members returning from conferences submit a trip report summarizing the conference and give an oral summary at the following board meeting.
"Finally, appropriate guest speakers are invited to educate us on those issues that are currently taking place at the national, state and local levels that have an impact on the credit union," said Rafferty. "I think the biggest challenge, not only for CoastHills but for all credit union boards, is keeping up to date with ever-changing regulations as well as the expectations of our members. The only way to ensure that our membership is effectively represented is for our board to not only know what new regulations are coming but also how they affect both the management and operation of the credit union, and at the same time the interests and financial stability of our members."
Recognizing the varied needs among board members, Davidson said it helps to have that discussion of what in the past has been most helpful or best practices and perhaps having established directors and new board members attend the same conference but select sessions that appeal to their experience level.
"One challenge is that each board member has different levels of experience," said Davidson.