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Every summer about this time, a large part of the credit union world focuses in on the Annual Conference and Exhibition of NAFCU. And for good reason; it attracts a lot of credit union movers and shakers under one roof. And a lot important to credit unions happens there. This year’s conference held earlier this month in Vancouver, British Columbia was no exception. Here are just a few of many observations from my Catbird Seat: Most official welcomes by one or more local dignitaries at these conferences are a big yawn. Dave Mowat, president/CEO of VanCity Credit Union in Vancouver, Canada’s largest at $9 billion, proved to be the exception. Although brief, his conference opening remarks gave the predominantly USA audience much to ponder. We face basically the same issues, he said. But he also hinted that just maybe credit unions in Canada try harder to stay focused on what makes a credit union different from the competition. It certainly isn’t taxation since Canada’s credit unions have been taxed as Canadian corporations since 1972 when Canadian CU leaders got complacent and were blindsided. What counts most according to the youngish CEO is enhancing his credit union’s well deserved reputation for practicing social responsibility, providing unparalleled member service by motivated staffs, and constantly zeroing in on what Mowat defines simply as a “value proposition.” With an engaging blend of humor and statistics, keynoter “Mitch” Daniels, a former high official in the Bush administration, set the tone for the conference as he ticked off his list of what to worry about and what not to worry about at the national level. After outlining such current issues as the economy, the national debt, taxation of individuals, entitlement programs, the war in Iraq, and giving a very specific analysis of why people vote the way they do, Daniels concluded that if Kerry becomes President it will not be because the majority of people voted for him, but because they voted against Bush. In a Vancouver luncheon presentation, the new NCUA Chairman, JoAnn Johnson, gave her first major keynote address since being appointed to replace popular Dennis Dollar. Known previously as a Board Member who felt the need to read her speeches word for word, a new JoAnn Johnson emerged north of the border. Johnson delivered an excellent speech. It had well-organized, timely content and it was delivered ad lib.almost. Speaking only from notes rather than the usual prepared text, the new chairman came across as someone already comfortable in her new position. NAFCU CEO Fred Becker also did a fine job of highlighting current credit union concerns with his aggressive approach to recent banking industry attacks. A couple of many thoughts I came away with include the fact that in spite of the non-stop bank lobbyists’ whining, over 2,400 new banks have been created in recent years and all seem to be doing nicely despite credit unions. Becker also indicated that credit unions are to be applauded for stepped up expansion into underserved areas. I agree. That, he said, is why credit unions are growing. I disagree. Credit unions are not growing. Check out the current stats (and see page 1 story on membership growth or lack thereof). Among several rhetorical questions Becker asked was how many letters do you think Hill staffers get from bank customers? My answer is none. But how many letters are generated by bank employees? A lot and the numbers are growing. So why aren’t credit union employees at all levels, not just CU CEOs, also encouraged to write letters? Becker and all other credit union leaders also need to worry not only about CU CEOs getting older and retiring, but as NCUA Board Member Debbie Matz frequently points out, credit union members (and directors) are also getting older and dying off without an equal number of young people joining up to replace them. Matz is rightly concerned that an aging membership is a largely unnoticed problem. As usual, there was no CUNA presence at this important NAFCU event. Why not? A little CUNA flag waving would help convince credit unions that pay the freight for both groups (and the bankers?) that credit union associations can also join together as the banking groups have to battle a common enemy. The buzz in the convention center hallways included dismay over the news that former Chairman Norm D’Amours has agreed to be a featured speaker on the September convention program of the Iowa Bankers Association. Speculation on what he might say was all over the map. Why Iowa? Where is the current NCUA Chairman from? The number of breakout sessions and topics was impressive. But it bothered me that although so many attendees were volunteers, most session topics were operational in nature. Do volunteer directors really need to learn the nitty gritty of day to day credit union operations? Of special interest to me, the educational program included a session on how to work with the media. Good idea. Except most of those on the platform were actually part of the problem. No real media person was included on the panel. As much as I was critical about the facilities and flow of the meeting last year when NAFCU met in Boston, I can’t say enough about the way the Vancouver Convention Center worked for NAFCU. This venue proved to be outstanding and well deserving of the first place it garnered at the international level in 2002 for best convention center. It takes 1,001 details to make a large meeting click. This one had all the bases covered. Kudos to NAFCU program planners. Next up is Las Vegas in 2005 and then a return trip to Canada with Toronto (a great city) as the site. With virtually no Canadian members and the current somewhat strained relationship between the U.S. and Canada (not at all evident in Vancouver however), going to Canada two out of three consecutive years may not be the smartest move. 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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