CUNA Name Tinker Sparks Debate
CUNA made a major announcement May 5 that a task force recommended considering “preliminary ideas” to change its advocacy, choice and governance structure. One of those ideas included a rebranding proposal to change its name from CUNA to America's Credit Unions.
But while branding experts said the name change could be a positive move, it will take a lot more than that for a full rebranding initiative to work.
“My question is, how will this affect credit unions as whole, and more importantly, how will this impact consumers, and will it impact consumers?” James Robert Lay, president/CEO of CU Grow, a Pasadena, Texas-based marketing firm, said.
He pointed out that CUNA has a business-to-business relationship with leagues and credit unions as opposed to a business-to-consumer relationship, and the these two types of relationships carry different value propositions.
“I think it could be positive, and I think it could be the initial steps to building a national credit union brand, but I don't know,” Lay said. “America's Credit Unions sounds a bit more unified, which is another positive.”
Lay said branding involves much more than just changing the name of an organization.
“The next step after the new name is how America's Credit Unions will actually live out its new brand,” he explained. “What does that really mean? It gets into the deeper of the why…why are we doing this? It gets into the value proposition, how that is going to change and how it is going to be delivered to credit union members.”
When CUNA introduced its proposed preliminary ideas in a slide presentation at the CU Roundtable last week in Colorado, it noted surveys conducted by the national organization showed that cooperatives want a “clear view of what's necessary to improve (the) CUNA/League value proposition.”
Elizabeth Hayes, president of the $273 million Infinity Federal Credit Union in Westbrook, Maine, who attended the CU Roundtable, said one of the factors that could change the value proposition discussed at the Colorado meeting is for the trade association to shift from survival mode to growth mode.
“Shifting the focus from survival of the industry, which has been really been the focus of the trade association for as long as I have been in the credit union industry for 20 years, as opposed to growth, progress and market share, will really help position credit unions for the future in a more competitive way,” Hayes said.
She noted that while the credit union industry has been growing in members, it has not been growing in market share for a long time.
“So shifting the focus of our association from more of a subsidy survival mode to a more strategic focus on growth, progress and true advocacy, I think, is really important,” she said.
Hayes said she and others left the conference with a lot of optimism.
“I walked away with a lot of respect for the CEOs and the task force who worked very hard to bring forward something to make a difference for the future of credit unions,” she said. “People recognize that this is really the time that we cannot simply go on the way we always have. While we are a collaborative and cooperative industry, we do need to put our money where our mouth is and really start to move this forward.”
A Task Force – a 12-member group made up of credit union leaders including credit union CEOs, state league presidents, a volunteer at a credit union, and a CEO who represents a credit union not affiliated with CUNA – was appointed in September 2014 to study CUNA's structure and governance and make recommendations to the association's board of directors. The group commissioned several focus groups and a nationwide survey of credit unions to gather credit union feedback.
Read more: CUNA's Jim Nussle said preliminary ideas resulted in positive feedback ...
“Several preliminary ideas were put forward for discussion and received positive feedback,” CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle said. “The focus was on how our trade association can facilitate superior advocacy throughout the credit union system while giving more choice on how to join the organization. I’m pleased that credit unions nationwide are working to help us build a better and stronger advocacy organization.”
The Task Force's next steps are considering the feedback it received from the CUNA board, the National Credit Union Roundtable and league presidents at its next meeting to revise and refine its recommendations with the goal of producing a report to the CUNA board. The board will likely vote on these proposals later this year, CUNA said.
“Much was discussed and everything is on the table,” Nussle said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the leagues and CUNA are stronger together and deliver more jointly by creating powerful synergies to advance credit union advocacy. These discussions will continue and we look forward to continuing to engage with the credit union system on these issues before they are presented to the board later this year.”
In addition to the proposed preliminary idea of changing CUNA's name to America's Credit Unions, mm report's other preliminary ideas include establishing league/national interdependence and retaining league/national connection with some credit union choice of league.
However, CUNA did not recommend changing the dual membership requirement, sources said.
According to the slide presentation, other preliminary ideas included allocating national advocacy dues spread among credit unions, leagues and the system advocacy fund, introducing some choice on how dues are allocated, creating cooperative agreements between CUNA and leagues for accountability, funneling all dues used to fund advocacy and developing fee based services not subsidized by advocacy dues.
Three additional preliminary ideas on CUNA's governance structure were to reduce the size of the trade organization's board, align the credit union board seats with proportion of dues paid, and retain league presidents on the board with reduced proportion.
“We (CUNA & Leagues) have been discussing this for a year or more,” Charles Elliott, president/CEO of the Mississippi Credit Union Association, said. “I think it will likely be implemented and the perception will be very positive.”
Other league presidents also expressed positive views.
John Murphy, president/CEO of the Maine Credit Union League, liked the idea of CUNA changing its name to America's Credit Unions because it focused the attention on credit unions, not a trade association.
“I think it's the right approach,” Murphy said. “We’ve been using Maine's Credit Unions as part of our statewide awareness campaign. Consumers aren't interested in the name Maine Credit Union League or on a national level CUNA. They want to see credit unions. We’ve been doing that and it's been very successful.”
In reaction to CUNA's proposed name change, Jim Blaine, president/CEO for the $30.5 billion State Employees’ Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., commented, “From long experience, I have observed that when the biggest thing on an institution's to-do list is a name change or logo redesign, it is usually a leading indicator that they have run out of ideas.”
SECU disaffiliated from CUNA in February 2014.