CUNA Mutes Voices Calling for Change
A loud and growing chorus of credit union leaders is calling for disruptive change at CUNA.
But the messages coming out of CUNA indicate the folks there either can't hear it, or aren't listening.
CUNA Chairman Dennis Pierce graciously provided CU Times with an exclusive editorial, sharing his thoughts as he leads the organization to search for Cheney's replacement and into the future.
Pierce was correct when he wrote that credit unions, and CUNA, are in a better position than they were during the Great Recession.
But can CUNA really claim that victory?
Was it CUNA and its marketing campaigns that drove membership gains over the past couple of years? Given the terrible press big banks continue to receive, and all we hear about how much Gen Y cares about shopping local and corporate ethics, are the membership gains even a win?
Last year, 2.8 million Americans established new credit union memberships, the most in the past 10 years. But in 2012 and 2011, new member gains weren't any better than they had been before the financial crisis. Looking at a basic bar graph of annual gains, I don't see much change to the trend line.
What about claims of victories on Capitol Hill? CUNA's Don't Tax My CU campaign was smartly executed, and it does appear that credit union lobbyists – all of them, not just CUNA – were successful in keeping the credit union exemption out of the tax reform bill draft.
Then again, more than a few Capitol Hill sources have told me Dave Camp's office assured them months ago credit unions were safe.
So we’ll give CUNA partial credit for successful tax reform lobbying.
However, I think Pierce is stretching when he claimed a major accomplishment in recently passing standalone regulatory relief legislation for credit unions out of congressional committee. That's a pretty vague description, and for good reason: The bill would allow state-chartered, privately insured credit unions access to Federal Home Loan Banks.
I’m sure the 131 credit unions that would benefit from that bill are thrilled to see it advance, but I wouldn't exactly call it a major accomplishment. I’d imagine the lobbyists at American Share Insurance might take issue with CUNA claiming the bill as its victory.
As for change, neither Cheney nor Pierce departed one bit this week from CUNA's existing talking points. All talk of the future revolved around CUNA's existing “Unite for Good” campaign, which is a three-part strategy of removing regulatory barriers, increasing consumer awareness and fostering service excellence.
Could those three things happen without CUNA? Probably so. Deregulation always naturally follows periods of overregulation. Claiming credit in coming years for chipping away at Dodd-Frank and other knee-jerk responses to the causes of the Great Recession is kind of like taking credit for spring after a long winter.
I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think credit unions have made substantial consumer awareness gains, or will do so sticking to the status quo.
I had an interesting exchange yesterday with a retired credit union CEO who ran a high-profile shop. This person has been stunned to discover how awful credit union service can be for mere members. More than once, this person has had to rely upon a Wells Fargo account – WELLS FARGO! – when credit unions have fallen short.
There are so many inspiring, innovative leaders that could provide the type of change CUNA so desperately needs.
People like Mike Kelly, president/CEO of payments CUSO PSCU. Evolution in payments could reduce credit unions and other traditional financial service providers to memories of yesteryear. A guy like Kelly would be a great choice to keep credit unions relevant.
Or how about Sarah Canepa Bang? She's traveled around the world, sharing and learning about financial services innovations, and nobody else in the industry has her “it” factor. Hundreds of CU Times readers clicked all the way through a photo slide show of this year's Wegner Awards just to see what she was wearing. Seems to me she has a win-win combination of smarts and star power that could be leveraged even further than a vice president's position at CO-OP. But is CUNA even courting these two?
I haven't heard their names circulating among the chatter of possible candidates. In fact, the names I’ve heard represent the status quo.
CUNA doesn't need to install an updated version of Dan Mica's agenda. It needs a full core conversion.