Clifford Rosenthal, CEO of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, is leaving the federation to take a position with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Rosenthal has served as a key leader at the federation and among community development credit unions for many years, beginning with the federation when it had fallen on hard times in the early 1980s.
In 2008, he announced that he would retire from the National Federation when he turned 65 in 2010. But the economic crisis that began in 2008 forestalled that plan and postponed his departure he said.
“I have been here a long time, and I think we are significantly stronger now,” Rosenthal said. “Our foundations are stronger and our programs are growing, so now it felt like a better time.”
Rosenthal's last day at the National Federation will be May 4, and his first day at the CFBP will be May 7.
Rosenthal will be the assistant director of the CFPB's Office of Financial Empowerment, a position that he said would have no enforcement responsibilities but will serve as an advocate for financial services among the poorest and most underserved populations. “It’s the only job I could see myself taking at this stage of my career,” Rosenthal said.
In a letter to federation member credit unions announcing his departure, Rosenthal reflected on the federation's accomplishments during the 30 years he was at its helm.
“Together, we have traveled a long way–from an organization whose very existence was in question in the early 1980s to a nationally recognized and respected voice for low-income communities, with a major role in the community development financial institutions movement–a movement that we co-founded many years ago,” Rosenthal wrote.
Aside from helping keep the National Federation afloat in its early years, Rosenthal's other accomplishments include working with the Clinton administration's Treasury Department to establish and launch the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. He also played a key role in helping the Obama administration establish the Community Development Capital Initiative, an effort through which the U.S. Treasury lent money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program at low cost to CDCUs that had been found healthy and stable enough to take the funds.
While the Office of Financial Empowerment will not have any enforcement responsibilities, it will have a role in contacting financial institutions, including credit unions, and advocating with them on behalf of programs, products and services that help consumers from the poorest and most underserved communities.
“No government agency can make a bank, or a credit union for that matter, do the right thing.” Rosenthal said. But the agency can point out to financial institutions the ways that different approaches, programs and services can both benefit them as well as underserved consumers, he explained.
Reaction to the announcement has been low key, with CUNA CEO Bill Cheney calling Rosenthal “the colossus of community development credit unions,” adding, “for more than 30 years, he has devoted his professional life to the growth of these institutions, and has earned accolades for both the national federation and the credit unions themselves. Although we will miss his dedication, enthusiasm and intellect, we wish him success in this next chapter of his career, and look forward to working with him.”
NAFCU CEO Fred Becker also wished Rosenthal well and said NAFCU also looked forward to working with him.