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The NAFCU Annual Conference and Exhibition is going on this week in Orlando. What better time to reflect on NAFCU’s strengths and weaknesses than when its entire leadership group and a large percentage of the group’s members are all gathered together under one roof? One of NAFCU’s biggest strengths is the fact that it is a direct membership organization. Credit unions are members, not leagues as in the case of NAFCU’s rival CU trade group CUNA. Among other things, that translates into instant member communication. CEO Fred Becker and his staff already have a well-deserved reputation for their ability to get the word out fast and accurately. Speaking of Becker, in the short time he has been at the helm, he has already proven to be one of NAFCU’s strengths. With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy, he seems to be everywhere credit unions and NAFCU need to be represented. He is professional, likeable, completely in tune with the issues, and knows how to work with his board and members. He gets an amazing amount of production out of a staff that is far too small for the program of work laid out for them. Another strength of NAFCU is the relatively small membership (less than 1,000 credit union members) and board of directors (nine hands-on members) and the single-minded focus on federal credit union issues by the group’s leadership, members, and staff. Decisions can be made much more quickly with far fewer bureaucratic obstacles to overcome. The organization doesn’t have nearly as many diverse constituencies to satisfy as CUNA and is not nearly as political. Of course that small size strength can also be a weakness, especially when it comes to impressing Congressional leaders and regulators regarding its clout based on the number of credit unions, credit union members, and total assets it represents compared to big brother CUNA. Another weakness that will intensify over time, is NAFCU’s determination to meet the challenge of a number of its members (about 20 to date) converting to state charters by continuing to allow them to be active, voting members of the association. Eventually this will dilute the single focus strength of NAFCU. At some point, those former FCUs will ask what they are getting for paying dues to NAFCU and CUNA. They may answer their own question by making state-charter demands that NAFCU will not be equipped to meet. When putting any association under the microscope, one activity that is always used as a measurement of how strong the organization is, is the success or failure of its annual conference. Here NAFCU really shines. It is in a class by itself when it comes to staging its Annual Conference and Exhibition. Each year it is by far the biggest in terms of participants, exhibitors, speakers, etc., but more important, its daily program is focused on member education, unlike CUNA’s Annual Symposium which goes off in a number of different directions. CUNA’s annual meeting, for example, is a big to do while NAFCU’s is a brief, no-frills affair. NAFCU doesn’t have all the distraction of dozens of other groups meeting in conjunction with it. CUNA’s Symposium comes across more as an annual meeting dominated by committee meetings, reports, elections, and a plethora of side political events that bring little value to those paying a pretty substantial conference fee to get educated. The purpose of NAFCU’s conference is clear, while CUNA’s miss-named Symposium has a huge image problem. Still another NAFCU weakness is a CUNA strength. NAFCU rarely seems to generate any headline-grabbing initiatives. Currently, as just one example of many, CUNA is everywhere with its Renaissance Commission activity. It’s topical, deals with a multitude of real credit union issues, is controversial both within and outside the credit union world (check out the American Banker’s Association scathing attack on the Commission’s initial report), and it is being talked about in credit union circles at all levels. What has NAFCU got going to generate similar excitement? A couple of Congressional initiatives that may actually fly in the face of the Renaissance push? Often times the main face of an association, especially for those not able to or not interested in attending the annual bash, is an association’s publications. One of NAFCU’s long running strengths is its weekly newsletter, Update. It’s well-written, knows its readers, concentrates on news of the industry and the association, and has little of the fluff often associated with such association publications. It could, however, use a fresh coat of paint. It’s beginning to look a tad dowdy. CUNA’s counterpart, Newswatch, has a bit more sparkle to it. However, from a content viewpoint, Update leaves Newswatch in the dust. A recent issue of Newswatch was devoted entirely to Renaissance Commission chest thumping. Did nothing else newsworthy occur that week deserving of coverage? As for each group’s membership magazine, there is no comparison. NAFCU is really too small to publish a magazine and it proves it six times a year when its tiny Federal Credit Union is distributed. A definite weakness. CUNA’s granddaddy monthly, Credit Union Magazine, is far more substantial and a good face for the association. In brief, some other NAFCU weakness are its overlapping memberships with CUNA, a board that at times likes to micro-manage, the fact that it has no counterpart to CUNA’s effective state league support system, and an overworked and underpaid staff. On the strength side of the ledger, there are many more examples. NAFCU has a good relationship with NCUA and other government agencies impacting CUs. It is well thought of by the Federal Reserve Board with whom it meets annually. Most important, NAFCU continues to be a strong and fiercely independent voice that gives credit unions an important choice. In summary, credit union folks on hand in Orlando will be exposed to mostly NAFCU’s considerable strengths, if for no other reason than they far outnumber the group’s weaknesses. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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