Credit union people are an eclectic bunch. I think the importance of the not for profit philosophy contributes to diversity of the characters. When they’re all in one area, such as an exhibit hall at a conference, the variety becomes more pronounced.
Several seasoned board members stopped by the Credit Union Times' booth at NAFCU’s annual conference last week. One longtime board member who came to our booth discussed at length many issues du jour with me. He was very informed on matters ranging from the CFPB and compliance to IT concerns. He was sharp and smart enough to know what he didn’t know and not too proud to admit it.
It seemed to me a few more younger board members than in the past walked the exhibit halls.
Still others strolled down the rows of sponsors dropping business cards and taking trinkets without even bothering to stop and find out what that vendor offers. It didn’t matter because they got their three-cent bottle opener or stress ball.
At both NAFCU’s exhibit hall and CUNA’s the week before, we got lots of feedback on our two-part series regarding credit union directors that are paid. Some were appalled that credit union directors were taking money for their service. It’s wrong for the philosophy and for the business. Others advocated for it, recognizing the work that directors put in and the risk that they take. There were a few that felt it was inappropriate or that the timing with the taxation push was inopportune. That last part is true, but our role is to report the news, and because of the recent legislation out of Washington State to allow compensation of board members, the issue is a highly timely one.
It is high time to at least get credit union stakeholders discussing important strategic issues such as the compensation and quality of their boards of directors. Many credit unions won’t even implement any kind of board or director assessment program because they avoid conflict at all costs. Some times facing conflict in a direct yet respectful manner is the only way to accomplish anything. And you may find you’re not alone–others have the exact same concerns that you do but also are too afraid of conflict to voice them.
One of the arguments against the NCUA regulation regarding board of director education was that the directors are “just volunteers.” We’re not talking about volunteering to play with the kittens at the local animal shelter. This is a highly regulated, rapidly changing industry and the directors should act as and be treated as such.
Credit union management is an interesting bunch, too. There are the ones that prefer to run a tight, cost-efficient ship. Others follow the spend money to make money philosophy. Each can be equally successful depending upon the wants and needs of the membership.
A common complaint among the directors and management was that credit unions are being regulated out of business. A few years ago this was a common complaint among the small to mid-sized credit unions. The larger ones were able to absorb it as the cost of doing business. Now, with the initial implementation of regulations coming out of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, over and above the NCUA and other regulators credit unions are accustomed to, even the larger credit unions are concerned.
Some CEOs want to ensure their boards are educated and engaged. Their boards make them better managers by providing strategic direction and insight on behalf of the members. Others just like to keep their directors in the dark; they’ll just be in the way, never mind that they are supposed to represent the membership.
Some credit unions go out of their way to attract as many members as possible to their annual meetings while others design it to attract a bare minimum.
The credit union community should revere, learn from and celebrate its diversity. It reminds me of the USA Network tagline: Characters Welcome.
Sarah Snell Cooke
Publisher/Editor in Chief