WASHINGTON—"We have done many things well, some less so," said Mark Meyer, CEO of Filene Research, in what was the closing general session talk at CUNA's GAC conference.
Before Meyer spoke, a parade of speakers, including Beltway luminaries such as Barney Frank and John Tester, told the GAC audience how they saw credit unions and Washington.
But it was Meyer who zeroed in on a high-level overview of credit union successes, and stumbles, in recent years.
Heading the list of what, in Meyer's view, credit unions have done well is that "credit unions won the trust of members. They continued to loan money. And they demonstrated the resilience of the cooperative model."
But then, said Meyer, there are important things credit unions can do a much better job at. Case in point, said Meyer, is "70% versus 8%." He deciphered the numbers: 70% of Americans say they are angry at banks, but only 8% say they are moving to a credit union. "Credit unions need to raise that number higher."
Meyer's second metric: 88% vs. 22%. He said, "88 percent of credit union CEOs say their boards need better financial acumen, 22% of board members say the same." That split, suggested Meyer, is worrisome and the perceptions need to be better aligned.
Meyer's third area for improvement: "Less cul de sac, more autobahn." He deciphered the metaphor by saying that at least some managements need to get out from the cozy comforts of talking mainly within a credit universe and instead, they need to engage in the rough and tumble of the autobahn, bumping up against nonbelievers as well as believers. That, he suggested, is where new growth will happen.
A different kind of message came from John Tester, a U.S. Senator from Montana and also a self-proclaimed big advocate of credit unions.
"Many rural communities would not be served by financial institutions were it not for credit unions," said Tester. "Credit unions understand rural America. And I am from rural America."
"We need more folks in Congress who understand rural America. I want to make sure small institutions can continue to serve rural America."
And, for Tester, the biggest applause came on his proclamation that "I stand up for rural America, and not Wall Street."
Credit unions, he suggested, share exactly that philosophy.
Perhaps the session's show stopper was its opening speaker, retiring member of the House of Representatives, Barney Frank, best known for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a law - noted CUNA in its speaker notes - the Washington Post called "the most sweeping overhaul of the nation's financial regulatory system since the Great Depression."
Frank's appearance was bittersweet, in that he noted it would be his last in his formal capacity as the ranking member of the Financial Services Committee. But, he stressed, this would not be his last involvement with credit unions.
Frank used his remarks to make one point clearly: "The most important thing we did in the [Dodd-Frank] financial reform bill with respect to credit unions was essentially nothing."