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Dan Mica, CUNA’s very successful and highly respected CEO and President, has set many lofty personal goals in his ongoing efforts to make the industry’s largest trade group a “world class trade association.” He has made a remarkably high percentage of his goals. There is little comparison between CUNA pre-Mica and CUNA today. Yet, he will never achieve one of his most sought after personal goals, something that continues to bug him, namely, a merger between CUNA and NAFCU. He still holds out hope that one day there will be one super trade association representing the nation’s rapidly declining number of credit unions. But it’s not going to happen. Nor should it. It’s no secret that Mica wants very badly to orchestrate a merger before he decides to ride off into the sunset. He has said so, although very subtlety, on every occasion (including several times recently) he gets to speak or write about the need for credit union unity, cooperation, speaking with one voice, needless duplication, overlapping memberships, and economies of scale. After being rebuffed numerous times by NAFCU’s leadership over the past several years, at times quite vigorously, CUNA’s Board decided to back off. They realized that if a merger were ever going to happen, the best window of opportunity was when former NAFCU President Ken Robinson announced his retirement. At that point, NAFCU’s Board not only said emphatically no, but said “hell no” to the aggressiveness of a Mica-led CUNA proposal to fold NAFCU into CUNA. Instead, they went out and chose an excellent CEO and President by the name of Fred Becker from among a number of outstanding candidates willing and able to lead NAFCU into an even brighter future as a stand-alone credit union trade association representing FCUs. However, although the CUNA Board saw the handwriting on the wall, it apparently gave Mica the green light to continue to carry the merger banner. But only as long as he made it clear every time he brought the subject up that he was not speaking for the board, but himself. Anyone who has ever worked for a volunteer board knows that is not a good situation for the CEO. Eventually any board will grow weary of their chief executive espousing an initiative in which they obviously do not feel nearly as passionate about as their CEO. That’s one reason why Mica should back off and continue to concentrate on making CUNA even better without obsessing on how great (in his mind) a combo group could be. There are other reasons. NAFCU on more than one well-documented occasion took an official stance on an important issue that was the exact opposite of CUNA’s position. Like David and Goliath, NAFCU’s position ultimately became the credit union industry position when CUNA was forced to do an about face. What if there had not been the checks and balances provided by NAFCU? Even without the big CUNA numbers, NAFCU has proven to be effective among politicians and legislators. One example of many: The NAFCU Board sits down face to face with Alan Greenspan and his Federal Reserve Board once a year to talk credit unions. The Fed obviously considers the input from NAFCU’s leadership to be very important. Although CUNA has the support of its state leagues and a credit union membership that moved into the 90-plus percentile under Mica’s leadership, NAFCU still puts on the best attended national annual conference, one that consistently gets high marks from CU CEOs, management staff, and directors in attendance. Mica seems to overlook the fact that having multiple associations to serve the advocacy needs of the same basic constituency is more the norm than the exception. Look, for example, at the alphabet soup of separate banking associations serving that industry. All have their own agendas, but all also realize that there are times when cooperation between them becomes paramount. Like attacking credit unions. Like pushing the expansion of Sub Chapter S Corporations. Like warding off California’s attempt to implement damaging rules for handling credit cards. By the way, on this one, NAFCU, seeing the danger to credit unions also joined the fray. CUNA reluctantly joined the fight much later because of political conflicts. There is something to be said for the fact that a CUNA/NAFCU coupling would allow the credit union industry to speak with one voice and not expect legislators and regulatory agencies to play referee between warring credit union factions. But is a merger the only way that can be accomplished? Absolutely not. The merger idea needs to be shelved once and for all by everyone including Mica. Instead, despite the fact that the two not-for-profit groups do compete in many obvious ways for the same dollars, the need to find ways to cooperate should be explored more fully. Not more coordinating councils that meet very infrequently if at all, and are more show than go. But real cooperation. Like jointly establishing a comprehensive list of credit union industry-wide priorities. And what’s the downside of giving each group a presence at the other’s leadership meetings and major conferences such as CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference and NAFCU’s Congressional Caucus? How about the two CEOs speaking at each others annual “conventions?” How about serving on each other’s committees? How about an annual joint board meeting? Also, how about joint staff meetings as the issues dictate? How about joint public relations and advertising programs? How about coverage in each other’s publications? Don’t theses ideas make more sense than either ignoring, or at times even bad mouthing each other in front of credit unions that support both associations? The time to forget about a merger that will never happen is here. The time to sit down together and develop a long list of ways to work together in meaningful ways is here. The time to represent credit unions with a single voice without being a single organization is here. Doesn’t this just make sense? 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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