Editor’s Column: Past Time to Crank Up Grassroots Lobbying
In our page 1 feature story, CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney is attributed with making the observation that community banks play a more prominent role in the political atmosphere of the community. That is sad. And, I believe he’s very much correct.
Cheney has a very big job to accomplish his goal of cranking up the grassroots. CUNA itself has been accosted for not getting enough done on Capitol Hill. While those accusations may be accurate in part, true lobbying starts at home. All credit unions’ boards and executives have a role to play.
Resources are tight for everyone, but if your credit union has more than $100 million in assets. it is your institution’s duty to assign someone political duties. An active and informed board member is likely your best bet because having an unpaid volunteer demonstrate that level of dedication will leave a mark on the hearts and minds of lawmakers. And, many board members are seasoned, which also create a nexus in lawmakers’ minds between credit unions and a very large voting constituency: older Americans. According to civicyouth.org, 60.8% of registered voters over 65 voted in 2010, compared to 24.0% of registered voters between ages 18 and 29.
Credit unions have committees made up of member for a variety of issue, like ALM. Why not a committee to champion credit unions’ political causes? That would be real grassroots at work. It is just as important as ALM to credit unions’ future.
Smaller credit unions with the interest and wherewithal should absolutely get involved too, but resources are especially tight there so for many it might not be feasible.
While at MDDCCUA’s annual conference last week, Jane Walters asked attendees what more could the NCUA do to help smaller credit unions stem the tide of deposit outflows at the tiniest of credit unions, those $10 million in assets and below. The NCUA could simplify regulations to the extent possible so that burden doesn’t put the smaller credit unions out of business and lobby Congress to simplify the statutorily mandated ones.
This is a real safety and soundness issue, so it should be within their jurisdiction to request such things of the Hill. Sounds good in theory, but there are a number of nonstarters here. The cost to the NCUSIF for merging or folding up the tiny credit unions doesn’t warrant the political and financial resources. Regulatory relief is not exactly a well-received notion with politicians right now, particularly as it pertains to financial institutions. Finally, it would have to apply to all credit unions and the bankers would be all over it, just like they are business lending right now.
That is exactly why credit unions need to bolster their grassroots efforts, which need to come from the volunteers and general membership. Executives and lobbyists are good for strategizing, but they can’t do it alone. They’re paid to argue a certain way, whether literally or based on their incentive package.
According to Cheney, CUNA and credit unions have “laid the groundwork for pay off on member business lending and GSE reform.” Pushing business lending past lawmakers politics and the bankers objection is a massive project. It will take much more than a handful of guys in ties scuffling about the echoing marble halls of the House and Senate office buildings to get it done. It will take a massive grassroots effort. Small business owner-members and potential members are likely to be more understanding and sympathetic to credit unions’ plight.
I’m not the only one making observations. I’ve also heard interesting observations to my June 8 column in which I recommended dropping the ‘credit union’ from your marketing and branding and not for the first time. I got one email message, which I’ll leave the name off of, stating, “You’ve lost your mind, girl!”
But during a session at MDDCCUA, Point Breeze Credit Union Director Joseph Marschall suggested that the industry drop the name credit union entirely in favor of cooperative or something else. Financial services cooperative isn’t bad, but it still would create one heck of an acronym for your marketing departments to work with. Let’s keep working at it because this is a key inhibitor to member growth.