Even though Paul Gentile has been working as CUNA’s new executive vice president of strategic communications and engagement for only eight weeks, he has already hit the ground running by opening more channels of communications with CUNA members through a variety of recently launched projects.
But Gentile has just begun to roll up his sleeves, working on an ambitious list of projects to improve CUNA’s strategic communications not just with credit union members but also with consumers, the media and lawmakers to advance the credit union cause.
His penchant for producing new initiatives and managing them over time was one of Gentile’s many talents that impressed CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney.
“I have watched Paul’s commitment to improving the credit union system over the years and his ability to create momentum for new initiatives,” Cheney said in November when he appointed Gentile to CUNA’s newly created position.
Before joining CUNA on Jan. 7, Gentile served for five years as CEO/president of the New Jersey Credit Union League where he led a wide range of projects, including legislative approval for New Jersey credit unions to compete in the state’s $15 billion municipal deposits market, leadership of the CUNA/league effort to create a national consumer awareness site, development of an NCUA examination survey, NJ READ, which provides the NCUA with on-the-ground data on examination practices at credit unions, and creation of a statewide shared compliance program that brings affordable, on-site compliance support to credit unions.
Although Gentile, the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Credit Union Times, has credited the NFCUL’s staff, board and member credit unions for the league’s accomplishments, Cheney has pointed out that Gentile’s proven record of accomplishments and leadership at NJCUL will be instrumental in helping CUNA advance the credit union system nationally.
Gentile’s main goal is to improve and advance the communications strategies at CUNA and the credit union system by leveraging every internal and external medium to deliver important messages that will:
Keep credit union members informed on important issues and empower them to take appropriate actions.
Broaden awareness among consumers about the credit union value proposition of banking they can trust.
Work with lawmakers and regulators to protect the interests of the credit union industry as a strong and viable financial service essential to supporting and growing the U.S. economy.
Deliver expertise and news sources to the media that promote the credit union story among readers, viewers and listeners.
“I’m in favor of using a broad range of media to get the message out,” said Gentile. “There is no one silver bullet in communications. You need to have a lot of different things going on to reach out to all the people you need to communicate with.”
About a week after starting his new CUNA job, Gentile launched The Cheney Report, a weekly email newsletter that highlights the CEO’s latest perspectives on three to four key events and policy developments. Gentile also enhanced CUNA’s weekly Regulatory Advocacy Report that used to be an internal publication that went to a limited audience. The report, which consolidates all of the major regulatory advocacy news, has improved search capabilities and is available free to all CUNA members.
Gentile also is reformatting CUNA News Now.
“It used to be a potpourri of different things, but it is going to be structured to focus on the most important topics and issues for credit unions and it is going to be easier to read,” said Gentile.
CUNA also is plowing more resources into a SmarterChoice.org that received nearly 385,000 visits last year. The site educates consumers about credit unions and helps them find one in their city. Gentile plans to upgrade the site with new search optimization capabilities and other tools to help users learn about their credit union options. Social media tags and banner ads also are being produced by CUNA to enable state leagues to promote the site.
Gentile rolled out the national version of the regulatory examination assistance and development survey (See CU Times' exclusive story, p. 1) that he started in New Jersey. The survey has been a critical tool for engaging credit unions that provide information on what they are experiencing–good, bad and in-between–during the exam process. More than 1,300 credit unions responded to the first CUNA national survey and the results are expected to be released during the GAC conference.
This information is used to constructively work with regulators on how to improve the exam process, spot areas of regulatory relief and to give credit unions tools to address emerging issues and trends.
“We will show NCUA the results and work with them constructively and discuss with them how we can improve the exam process,” said Gentile. “This survey is one of the ways we are engaging our credit unions and making sure we are doing the best to represent them and improve the their environment.”
To counter recent attacks by the banking lobby to eliminate the credit union tax exemption, Gentile led the development of a media toolkit equipped with radio ads, print ads, newsletter articles and social media outreach efforts to connect with their members and educate the public about the value of credit unions.
Gentile believes that good communications is about consistency, which is why it’s important for credit unions to work together and speak with one voice to the media, consumers and lawmakers. This concept will be part of a CUNA theme, “Unite for Good,” at the GAC conference.
How do credit unions speak with one voice?
There are common values that credit unions share–trust, member service, financial literacy, community involvement, doing what is right for members–that can be aligned and leveraged to advance the credit union story, Gentile explained.
“If you told every credit union leader that they have 10 seconds to convince consumers why credit unions are the best options, I’m not sure you would get the same answers across the board,” said Gentile. “While there is not a single answer, we should have the same messaging points. With consistency in our message, we would be able to penetrate over time what consumers think about credit unions. We have more than 95 million credit union members but only 40 million use credit unions as their primary financial institutions. Even within our memberships, we have a tremendous opportunity for growth.”