Several years ago my wife and I decided that it was time for me to change careers. While I enjoyed life as a businessman, I was always drawn to nonprofit work and working for the benefit of others. With this in mind I did some research, and it turned out that the credit union industry was a natural fit.
I was drawn to two main core concepts: the first, that our movement is about empowering people to be financially secure regardless of their socio-economic status, and the second, that this industry views itself as a movement. That indicates that this is an industry in which leaders would be willing to think beyond the conventional and also to fight for the best interests of the people that were entrusting them with their financial well-being. In other words, that this industry is, as all movements are, led by activists.
As many people may know, Commodore Perry Federal Credit Union has had a difference of opinion with the NCUA regarding a past examination. That issue has been mostly resolved, but a related and possibly more important issue to our industry has gone relatively unnoticed. As one credit union CEO stated, “Why would you question the NCUA when you cannot possibly hope to win?”
Why? Because we are activists.
The word “activist” carries connotations that can be viewed negatively or positively. I would describe an activist as an individual that believes strongly enough in a cause to demonstrate initiative in promoting and improving it.
Per this definition, credit union leaders are, or should be activists. I would even say that credit union leaders have a fiduciary duty to be activists for their credit unions. And while in a majority of cases credit union leaders do act as activists for their credit unions, at least in some respects, it has been my observation that few of them are involved in addressing their legislative or regulatory environment.
At any meeting of credit union leaders, it’s routine to hear complaints about over-regulation, but if you ask them what they are doing about it, the answer tends to be “What can I do about it?” The answer to that question varies but must begin with the question, “What are you willing and able to do?”
Each year our trade associations hold numerous conferences in which we are offered access to high-ranking elected and appointed political officials. While open to all members, they are not nearly as well-attended as they should be. All of us are represented by elected state and federal officials, and we, as credit union leaders, represent the financial interests of thousands of constituents. How many of us actively ask our members to write letters or make phone calls to those elected officials? Many of us do not even take the time to write a single letter on behalf of our own credit union regarding legislative and regulatory issues that affect us.
As we prepare for the fight over the federal tax exemption–an issue that could end our industry as we know it–we must ask ourselves, “Are we doing all we can to truly represent the interests of our members.” Are we informing our members of the importance of being politically engaged? Are we writing letters, making calls, and participating in the process? Or are we simply sitting on the sidelines and waiting to complain about the results of a process we did not make the time to participate in? I sincerely hope the answer is yes, because 96 million credit union members are counting on us.
Thomas Renz is president of Commodore Perry FCU, Port Clinton, Ohio.
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