CUSOs Bid for Higher Profile
At CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference last week in Washington, dozens of CUSOs set out to make their presence felt and their voices heard.
Kirk Drake, president/CEO of Ongoing Operations LLC, used the event to play up what CUSOs are and are not.
“Even though CUSOs are owned by credit unions, it has been my experience that they are largely overlooked, not asked to participate in most of the political advocacy and are lumped into the general vendor category,” wrote Drake in his CUNA GAC CUSO guide.
At least 25 CUSOs had exhibit booths at the GAC, according to Drake. Ongoing Operations, a Hagerstown, Md.-based CUSO that provided business continuity and technology solutions, was be among them.
In the CUNA GAC CUSO guide, Drake offers background information on how CUSOs are different from vendors, how they enable collaboration and a list of CUSOs that will be at the GAC.
One of the differences between CUSOs and vendors is credit union ownership in strategic partners ensures that credit unions have a voice, Drake said. Another difference is there are non-credit union shareholders to please, he added.
Jointly owned CUSOs also pay dividends to their credit union owners and can provide savings on services as well as generate revenue through products and services a credit union cannot offer directly but can do through a CUSO, Drake said comparing CUSOs to vendors.
“I think CUSOs are one of the most important if not the most important way for innovation, adaptability and differentiation credit unions have and are crucial to the long-term viability of the industry,” Drake said.
Much of Drake’s message could easily piggyback on NACUSO’s positions on how CUSOs are experiencing a number of new challenges, including CUSO reviews from the NCUA as NACUSO President/CEO Jack Antonini, wrote in a January op-ed published in Credit Union Times. In 2012, a number of CUSOs received an advisory from the NCUA informing them to prepare for a CUSO review.
NACUSO found that there are no established CUSO review guidelines for NCUA examiners to follow, a void shared by those CUSOs that underwent a review and a lack confirmed by NCUA senior staff. Antonini said NACUSO is assembling a working group to coordinate with the agency in the development of these guidelines.
Meanwhile, Drake said CUSOs continue to provide the business structure to foster collaboration among credit unions.
“My experience has been that in order to create sustained collaborative efforts that transcend management teams and CEO relationships, a CUSO is necessary,” he wrote in a recent blog. “CUSO’s create an independent neutral zone that enables all parties to work for the common good–occasionally at an individual or organizations detriment.”
Drake said without this, tough business decisions and issues cannot be dealt with efficiently. “Ultimately, the board governance, shared business ideals, joint problem solving and industry focus breeds increased trust and collaboration which yields innovative ideas and businesses that reshape the industry,” Drake said. “It isn’t that collaboration won’t occur without a CUSO, I find it just makes it much tougher.”