Nussle Can Bat, But Will He Score?
I had the opportunity to sit down and grab a quick chat with new CUNA CEO Jim Nussle at the Sept. 26 Nationals game, which CUNA sponsored. The encounter further supported my belief that Nussle was a great score for the trade.
You can tell Nussle is an experienced former Congressman – he worked the crowd of CUNA employees and other credit union professionals like a pro, achieving that perfect balance of making himself readily available without coming off as desperate or pushy.
But leading CUNA requires more than just a pretty face and charming personality. Credit unions also need someone with intellect and a strong backbone.
So far, Nussle appears to be up to the challenge.
In his debut OpEd published Sept. 23 in CU Times, Nussle called for Congress to “require the CFPB to use its existing, statutory exemption authority relieve credit unions and community banks from burdensome and unnecessary requirements.”
Two words – community banks – caught my eye. I asked Nussle about that, and indeed, he said the inclusion was purposeful. He will try to collaborate with bank lobbyists to benefit both types of institutions. (Emphasis on the word try, because this approach is nothing new.)
To me, this makes sense. Nussle spent eight terms in Congress building relationships with community bankers who, like it or not, have a strong presence in Iowa. The state agricultural economy favors banks, not because credit unions can’t compete head-to-head, but because more banks offer business loans and aren’t subjected to the member business lending cap.
Rather than approach the banking lobby hat in hand, Nussle can look Independent Community Bankers of America CEO Cam Fine and American Bankers Association CEO Frank Keating in the eyes as a peer. Not that other credit union leaders aren’t peers of Fine or Keating; they are. However, I don’t think the better-than-you bankers see it that way. Judging by how hard it is to get credit unions mentioned in the same breath as community bank on Capitol Hill, I suspect most elected officials don’t see it that way, either.
Of course, whenever credit unions propose legislation, community bankers are assumed to be included, and they often are.
Does anybody else find that frustrating? Credit unions, who exist only to improve the lives of American voters, have to work twice as hard on Capitol Hill to get half the recognition community banks receive. Community banks are often supportive of the communities they serve, but the reality is that they exist only to produce profits for shareholders. Granted, those shareholders are often members of the community, but relatively speaking, they’re the wealthy ones.
Credit union lobbyist John McKechnie suggested a great way credit unions can help turn this tide: Stop using the term community when talking about banks. Every time the word community is paired with bank, it reinforces their carefully crafted branding.
McKechnie compared this to Republicans who refer to their opponents as progressives instead of liberals. Liberal has successfully been branded a dirty word in most places, but who dislikes progress? Likewise, it’s easy to hate Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, but what elected official would pass up the opportunity to align with a firm that is branded with the warm and fuzzy community name?
Let’s call them what they are: Small banks.
Back to Nussle. His Sept. 30 OpEd published in Washington political paper The Hill took a stronger tone than the one he sent to CU Times. In The Hill, Nussle tells bankers they may as well give up the taxation fight. He quoted Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) who said, “To keep coming to us and asking for (credit union taxation), waiting for it to happen, is a little bit akin to leaving the landing lights on for Amelia Earhart. Credit unions are not taxed the same as banks as a matter of policy."
One word that was missing from that opinion piece? Community. Every reference Nussle made to the competition only used the b-word.
Nussle is in Madison, Wis., this week, getting to know CUNA employees and leaders who work there. While a Capitol Hill win for credit unions is important, CUNA has other challenges outside Washington, like its increasingly unpopular dual membership mandate and a shrinking industry.
Only time will tell how effective Nussle is outside of the Beltway. For now, however, things appear to be looking up for CUNA.