Bucky Sebastian Foresees Pomp and Circumstance
Bucky Sebastian is considering housing the next stage of his professional life within the ivied walls of the College of William and Mary.
Sebastian and his wife have moved to Williamsburg, Va., and will have a son in law school at William and Mary in the fall. Sebastian noted that an executive with the Filene Research Institute is an alumnus of the school and that the school has a link with credit unions and credit union research.
“I haven’t taken any concrete steps in this direction [of working with the school],” Sebastian said, “but I could see myself going back to school a little, maybe doing some mentoring. Nothing on a full-time basis,” he said.
The former CEO at GTE Federal Credit Union and current executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation will retire from the NCUF as of June 30. Sebastian served at NCUF for three years, from May 2010, after serving at GTE FCU for 20 years.
He said he is stepping down now, in part, because he agreed to take the position for three years and because his life has shifted since he left Florida.
Sebastian’s varied career has included being a key official at NCUA and helping found Callahan & Associates.
He also has been involved in helping to lead the National Center for Member Trust, an effort to help credit union members whose credit union’s contemplated becoming banks organize to retain their credit union charter. And in his earliest financial service career he held the position general counsel of the Illinois Department of Financial Institutions.
“Bucky has done an outstanding job over the last three years in directing the foundation to focus its efforts on financial education and a number of key initiatives to benefit the credit union movement,” said CUNA CEO Bill Cheney. “We will miss him and want to thank him for his many contributions to the foundation as well as the CUNA system.” Laida Garcia, NCUF board Chair and Tampa, Fla.-based Floridacentral, will appoint a search committee to recruit for a successor. “While we congratulate Bucky on his upcoming retirement, we also acknowledge the loss of an excellent leader, who will be greatly missed,” Garcia said.
Although he does not take credit for launching the changes, Sebastian served as executive director during a period where the NCUF moved in several new directions. He was at the helm as the NCUF re-assumed responsibility for the Credit Union Development Education program, which was launched by the NCUF. He also helped oversee a shift in the foundation’s grant making, moving away from funding more, smaller, projects that might influence a small number of credit unions to funding larger projects that focused on putting innovations into place that credit unions across the country might be able to replicate in the future.
He also served at the time the NCUF temporarily took over distribution of the award winning television show BizKids that appears on public television outlets and worked to nationalize its distribution. BizKids teaches young viewers about different aspects of financial management.
What linked all these changes, Sebastian said, was the way the NCUF has stepped up to serve credit unions and the credit union industry in ways that individual credit unions would not be able to do on their own.
“For example, all the really large nationwide banks are going to have R and D budgets,” Sebastian said. “These days that have to if they are going to survive. Look at Kodak. Nationwide firm with a very strong brand a lot of history that actually discovered digital photography first. But because they didn’t do the research on how to make use of it, they became a failed company.”
Most credit unions don’t have the resources to build a research capability, and the NCUF, combined with work conducted by the Filene Research Institute, can provide that role, Sebastian explained.
Sebastian reaffirmed his basic optimism about the course of the credit union industry and praised the solid work that he said credit unions all over the country do each day to help their members better their lives. He did, however, express concerns over an obstacle that he said took shape after the financial crisis: current regulators who he said are both too expansive and too inflexible.
“There is always a balance to strike between having a regulator which is a cheerleader for the industry and having a regulator which misplaces its own agenda for that of the industry,” Sebastian explained, indicating that, in his view, some regulators at the federal level have done just that.
Sebastian’s critique addressed not only the NCUA but also the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau as well other parts of the regulatory system.
Sebastian did not name any officials but observed that too many regulators failed to consider what a credit union is seeking to do with or through a given product or service. He cited as examples some type of short-term, low-dollar loans that critics called payday loans but which actually help credit union members avoid third-party payday lending firms as well as excessive provisions for loan losses that credit unions have been forced to carry.
Sebastian did not dwell on his experience as CEO of GTE Financial FCU (then GTE FCU) but mentioned that having the regulator move from using a five-year average to calculate provisions for loan losses to one-year was a big part of what lead the credit union to close branches and lay off staff.
“We moved millions do dollars into provisions for loan losses that should not have been there and those moves on paper helped drive real world casualties, branch closings and layoffs,” he said.
Sebastian argued that credit unions needed regulators which were less focused on writing new regulations and remained more centered on looking into what credit unions are actually doing with their members.
By way of example, he contended that a good examiner should be able to meet with a credit union’s senior management team and tell within an hour whether or not that credit union is in trouble.
“The very first thing an examination team should do is meet with the entire senior management team,” said Sebastian, who served as executive director and general counsel at the NCUA from 1981 to 1985. “Any good examiner is going to know within an hour talking to those people if they know what they doing. Now, they are still going to have to check, but they should have a good idea of the overall management level.”