Editor's Column: Step Up and Put the Fear of CUs into Bankers
I’ve written about member business lending so many times that I’ve run out of new ways to get this column started. Just get it done already.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Credit union professionals and volunteers are going to be the ones to get this done, not CUNA and NAFCU. Of course, they play an important part–not as debatable as some might think–but it’s the constituents (you) who serve other constituents (your members) that can make a greater impression on members of Congress. The paid lobbyists educate the senators and congressmen and their staffers, and they carry the names that can get a meeting scheduled. However, it’s a credit union executive’s and volunteer’s duty to meet with their representatives on the Hill and bring the issues down to a local level and personalize and monetize them.
CUNA estimates that the current legislation could bring 140,000 jobs to the American economy, and CEO Bill Cheney announced another effort during CUNA’s annual conference to create a unified message around such statistics as credit unions save American families $150 a year each. Use that or you’ll be even more effective armed with localized statistics from your state leagues or other resources. Demonstrate to members of Congress exactly why this legislation is important to their voting districts.
Ask the small business owners you serve to lobby on your behalf. They’ll lend third-party credibility to your efforts and put a face on the voting constituents that your credit union is helping and can continue to help if member business lending is expanded for credit unions.
Taking a public relations angle might be another way of approaching the issue. In February, I wrote about cash mobs, a relatively new idea at the time, suggesting that credit unions hold them for local small businesses. The Central Ohio Chapter of Credit Unions did just that, starting with Weiland’s Gourmet Market and promising more to come. Store sales were up more than 18% from the previous year, and the proprietors seemed truly grateful.
First and foremost, the credit unions are doing these deeds to support their local communities. But secondly, it makes for great press locally and nationally, as well as in trade publications ranging from credit unions to marketing to small business. It’s also evidence that credit unions are helping out the local businesses, which is great for politicians’ campaign efforts. Encouraging members of Congress to attend one of these or at least letting them know about it could make them more favorable to your issues such as member business lending or capital reform. And maybe you will be able to get the businesses that are mobbed to help lobby on your behalf.
Lobbying might make some executives and volunteers uncomfortable, but it’s crucial to your business and, this being July 4, it’s your patriotic duty. Even general awareness rather than lobbying issues or campaigning for candidates can be influential.
The credit union lobby has a steep hill to climb. According to John Magill of CUNA, there are approximately 100 members of Congress who either are or are related to bank banking professionals. Credit unions have one in the House, former credit union board member Mike Michaud (D-Maine), who’s served since 2003. The community bankers showed their political might by obtaining $30 billion from Congress for more small business lending while they kept credit unions from attaching a budget neutral bill to expand credit unions’ business lending to the legislation. The banking groups are also supporting their arguments by highlighting member business lending missteps such as those of Telesis and Texans, when credit unions should be holding up several hundred credit unions that are doing it right.
PSECU’s Nate Muniz, a former Hill staffer, suggested that more credit unions need to get politically involved because trotting out the same people year after year to often make the same point–such as expanded business lending authorities–was less helpful. Of course, some might have longer term relationships with their politicians that are helpful but mix it up and get more people involved.
The bankers are beginning to get scared this business lending bill might pass. Put the fear of credit unions into them.