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WASHINGTON-For CUNA at 70, the `good old days’ are a reminder of their roots as well as a gauge for how far the organization has come. “Some things have changed dramatically in 70 years and other things remain the same,” CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica remarked. He recalled when he first came to CUNA he spent a good bit of time reading through a lot of history of the movement and old Congressional transcripts. “The banks wanted to put us out of business then,” Mica observed. “Ever since we’ve been around banks have said that they don’t need credit unions and if there are (credit unions) they need to be limited, restricted, choked off with no growth policies, essentially which would mean no service, no break for the consumers.” There had been attacks leveled at credit unions from the banks throughout their history. “We have always won, but sometimes every time we win we lose a little,” he said. “And what we’re trying to do is get ourselves in the position to see that future victories come as total victories, not as partial victories.” One of the first challenges Mica faced as CEO of CUNA was the AT&T field of membership Supreme Court decision in 1998 that NCUA’s interpretation of the law was too broad. (Of course this is against the backdrop of near financial ruin until CUNA was able to restructure its cards unit-CUNA Services Group-and walk away without a bankruptcy.) So it was back to Capitol Hill for Mica and CUNA to get the law changed in order to preserve credit unions’ existence some would say. In 1997, CUNA began laying the groundwork for the Campaign for Consumer Choice. When Mica joined CUNA in 1996, he and the board had together and separately changed about 80% of the senior management of the organization. Credit unions were starting the fight of and for their lives with the top officials of their largest trade association practically brand new, he pointed out. Mica said with some pride that many professors and political analysts still refer to the fight for H.R. 1151 as a textbook grassroots campaign. He also said with a smirk that it was the worst defeat for the bankers on record. In 1998, CUNA went from number 77 on Fortune’s list of influential trade associations to number eight. “Then we put into place a whole serious of strategic and long-term approaches-strategic and tactical approaches-so that if we ever have to have this kind of battle again, we’ll be better prepared,” Mica explained. CUNA launched its Hike the Hill program that year. The Loudest CU Political Voice CUNA’s top reason for existence is advocacy. To prove that, in 1999, the board approved a dues restructuring and, from then on, 100% of the dues goes to advocacy and the organization’s core functions; the rest must be self-sufficient. Arizona Credit Union League President Gary Plank pointed out that when he joined the credit union community in February 1966, CUNA and the leagues were more into organizing credit unions and “holding their hands, even keeping their books.” But looking back, he said, “Advocacy has probably always been our biggest role. We just didn’t realize it.” Jim Jukes, who has served in many positions in the credit union community from managing ICU Services (CSG’s forerunner) to organizing 60 credit unions while at the Kansas Credit Union League, commented that sometimes credit unions have to work so hard to protect themselves from the banks, it can detract from their positive ventures. As CUNA, under Mica’s leadership, continued to pursue political might, the trade association kicked off several programs to achieve its goals. In 2000, CUNA began its Renaissance Commission, “a major project and a sophisticated approach to listening to the entire movement,” in which every sector of movement was invited to create a “flexible blue print for the future.” “I think CUNA has become a much more sensitive, much more tolerant organization in terms of the role it plays in the credit union community,” CUNA Executive Vice President of External Relations Pete Crear said. “There was a time when many credit union talked about CUNA throwing its weight around and doing things that they didn’t like and they saw us, I think, as a closed organization.” Renewal, which was the effort spearheaded by Mica to streamline and at the same time build up the organization, helped change that. “Not terribly long ago the board got smaller and more representative of various credit unions geographically, as well as size,” Crear noted. He added credit unions now seem to perceive CUNA as more of a partner. “We’re not sending down edicts of `this is the way it ought to be,’ ” Crear explained. In 2000, CUNA launched Project Differentiation so credit unions could voluntarily gather information on themselves to demonstrate the difference between credit unions and banks. One of those differences for CUNA is its partnership with the National Endowment for Financial Education. Mica said that financial literacy is kind of a buzzword now but CUNA began its NEFE efforts in 2000, but that only scratches the surface of what has been a primary credit union mission throughout their history. With Mica’s arrival at CUNA, much of the staff was shifted to its Washington, D.C. headquarters. But he felt credit unions needed more of a presence on Capitol Hill and, thus, Credit Union House was opened in 2001. Previously, he explained that credit unions after doing battle on the Hill would retreat back to their everyday lives until the next attack. But that did not jibe with Mica’s vision. “ From this point on we’re going to add a full quiver of arrows to our approach to avoid being attacked and being caught flat-footed,” he said. Mica added that it is crucial to get credit unions more involved in the political process and stress the importance of individual votes. Credit unions “need to keep getting wider and deeper until we are in a position where we feel very confident every time we speak that we will be taken fully and totally seriously at our word and our needs will be looked at and our request will be addressed appropriately,” he said. For many years, CUNA counted on the number of credit union members in the United States as one of their strengths. In 2002, the trade association began to quantify it through Project Zip Code. CUNA now has about 50 million of the 84 million credit union members logged in the program. “We know where they are. We know whose district they’re in. We know where they are in the Congressional District. We know where they are in the state house and the state senate district,” Mica explained. This helps credit unions lobby in Washington and at the state level to mention that a particular lawmaker has so many thousands of credit union members in their district. Also in 2002, Mica completed his tour of all 50 states, some representatives of which said they had never been visited by a CUNA president. “It’s very heartwarming to see around the country the credit union spirit at the local level, how strong and how passionate it is,” Mica commented. Particularly in Louisiana and South Dakota, he heard stories from credit union representatives of how they had driven hours and some even all night to meet him just to turn around again. As CUNA has built its presence up in Washington, it has accomplished some proactive feats. Just over a year ago, CUNA and others persuaded the Small Business Administration to change its policy to allow all credit unions to participate in SBA-backed lending. At the end of last session a proactive, freestanding credit union bill, the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act (H.R. 3579), was introduced. Mica noted that prompt corrective action requirements and member business lending restrictions are some of the most frequently raised general issues raised by credit unions as well as credit union conversions to mutuals. He recognized that no matter how many powers are gained for credit unions, some will still pursue conversion to a bank out of greed. “I really have personal concerns about the ethics of individuals walking away with personal gains-pocketing cash personally-that was raised on a not-for-profit, tax-free basis,” he said. “That money belongs essentially to the credit union and its members, not to the board and the management.” So how can credit unions keep CURIA from becoming something of an H.R. 1151, where several negatives like the member business lending cap and PCA are tacked on in efforts to compromise for the things that are necessary? “Strength,” Mica responded. “The best way to win a battle in this town is to never really have the battle.” He noted that this is the strategy of many military leaders and highly successful ones at that. Few groups have attained that status, Mica said; CUNA is on the verge but it will take a major jump to reach it. Looking now and into the future, CUNA is going to become more involved in expanding service to new Americans and the Hispanic community through its Hispanic Task Force, which will hold its first meeting at GAC. Crear also said he felt CUNA’s entrance into aiding credit unions with small business services was critical to CU success. “When you look at CUNA now, our main focus is to try to be on the cutting edge for credit unions in order to get them focused and moving in the right direction,” he said. “I think our business services is the right effort to make at this point. It’s recognizing where the marketplace is headed and where credit unions need to be.” All Good Things Come to an End, But When? Mica highlighted that he has enjoyed serving his eight years with CUNA, but that he is not one of those CEOs that will hang on for 20 years. He emphasized that change at all levels is important with an organization like CUNA. At his departure, one important decision CUNA’s Board will have to make is if they want their next CEO to come from within the credit union movement. CEO changes have been fortunate at CUNA, according to Crear, who quipped that he feels like the “last living confederate soldier” after nearly 40 years in the movement. He has served as the CEO of the Connecticut, Michigan and Indiana Leagues, and as interim CEO of CUNA before Mica began. “I think each one of the CUNA presidents have brought something very unique to the table, something they were very, very good at, and it’s been what we needed at that point in time,” he recalled. “We certainly didn’t know that at times when the hiring took place but I think it has worked to our advantage in every case to be perfectly honest.” For example, Mica was the “exact right individual for what we needed and what we’ve been going through for the last seven or eight years politically.” Ralph Swoboda was a great organizer and most engaged in credit unions because he came from a credit union background. Jim Williams, he said was a man ahead of his time; his vision “was so big it was unbelievable.” Herb Wegner convinced the leagues that everything was possible and so bonded credit unions into one voice. “Each one of them had something really, really special that they brought to the table and it was the exact special thing that was needed,” Crear said. Though CUNA has evolved over time, from credit union organizer, to adding supply and support operations, to emphasizing its lobbying prowess, credit unions are in steady hands, according to its supporters. While the latest technology continues to become obsolete, CUNA will continue to steward credit unions into the next era, Crear said. And even with greater reliance on technology, credit unions will carry on their personalized service to members. “I think what most people say about credit unions is still true, and that is credit unions really, genuinely care about us,” he said. “I think credit unions really have a terrific future. I honestly do.I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface on what our capabilities are in terms of the financial marketplace,” Crear concluded. [email protected]

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