ARLINGTON, Va.-NAFCU President and CEO Fred Becker feels it is important to remain `an average guy,’ so long as his trade association is a standout. He noted that the former head of NAFCU, Ken Robinson, was a general and so was used to special treatment. Not Becker. “I’m continually taken aback by the people who treat me like more than I should be or that I feel that I am just because I’m someone who happens to be a national representative,” he said. “I think it’s important that I try to stay down to earth and be the average guy-the guy who falls off his roof at Christmas and doesn’t pay somebody to get up and decorate his house for him.” Becker broke his leg late last year hanging Christmas lights on the roof of his house. But, this `average guy’ has proven a mover and a shaker within NAFCU. Though he said he did not know where he wanted to be in five years when he came to NAFCU, Becker stated, “I can say in retrospect, we’re much farther than we thought we’d be, if I had to Monday morning quarterback it.” He said a vendor CEO advised him at the beginning of his time at NAFCU to “just put your head down, don’t look up and just keep going,” which Becker said turned out to be pretty sage advise. It fairly succinctly encapsulated his first year with the organization. Fred took over from his first day at NAFCU, Jan. 31, 2000. “The transition went marvelously well and the transition went marvelously well because of Ken,” Becker said. “It’s hard to come in and within six months or a year, to take someone’s place, who today, is still loved by the industry.To replace an icon was very, very difficult.” Something to Talk About On that first day, Becker sent a personalized e-mail to each of NAFCU’s member credit unions that they had addresses for introducing himself. He used that same idea to send two more membership e-mails later that week on goings-on with bankruptcy reform. Becker and the staff later instituted “NAFCU Today,” an e-mail service to notify members of the news on the Web site that day, as well as some marketing of NAFCU offerings like economics and statistics. “One of the things we’ve found is that there are a lot of things we do that our members don’t know we do,” Becker explained. He also led the call to spruce up some of NAFCU’s publications, like the Update newsletter and the Flash Report. Becker took the same principle and began ensuring e-mails between the membership and himself and other senior staff are personalized as much as possible and signed by the sender, as well as including a contact number. Additionally, he began what has become affectionately known within NAFCU as “Fred-er” letters, which go out to member credit unions congratulating them on something unique they have done, such as a financial literacy effort or aiding the troops overseas. “[It's] a benefit of a smaller association that you can reach out and touch and it enables us to take advantage of technology.You have to be smarter than the bigger associations, you’ve got to be faster, and you’ve got to be continually innovative and I think we’ve done that,” Becker said. “I think we have a responsibility to continue to do that as we move forward.” The CEO can be caught sneaking out of NCUA Board meetings following the approval of a community charter application to congratulate the credit union before the agency even has a chance to notify them. Keeping Principles in Check Upon Becker’s arrival, NAFCU also developed its `Guiding Principles,’ seven items that the organization would be driven by. Reviewing them, Becker noted it is very telling of NAFCU’s efforts. First item is preserving credit unions’ uniqueness, which he said NAFCU is working toward even as the group works to bring them into the 21st Century with legislation like regulatory relief and the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act. Along with this, the trade association felt it important to work to preserve volunteer credit union boards. NAFCU also listed the pursuit of limited field of membership changes as a guiding principle. “The FOM Manual essentially was plagiarized from our comments and that’s fine,” Becker pointed out with a chuckle. “We appreciate that kind of plagiarism.” Two items that tie together are the maintenance of NCUA as an independent regulator and keeping the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund-one of the founding reasons for NAFCU-under its watch. “You no longer hear those calls anymore,” Becker explained, to separate the NCUSIF from NCUA. NAFCU was also interested in examining options for alternative capital, which has evolved more into a battle to evolve Prompt Corrective Action into a more risk-based system. In this matter, Becker feels NAFCU has truly helped to set the agenda. NAFCU has been saying, “It’s not secondary capital folks, it’s PCA and look where we are today,” Becker noted. “Everybody pretty much agrees its PCA.” NAFCU jumped in early and often on the need to lift credit unions’ member business lending restrictions, Becker said. “Although we’re a long way from getting member business loan restrictions lifted-and that’s probably the toughest thing in either CURIA or reg relief-” he admitted, “we did succeed with the [Small Business Administration].” He also acknowledged NCUA’s work with NAFCU in the area. Becker concluded, “I think we’ve come pretty far.” This overall effort to enhance the federal charter has led to a slight favor of the federal charter, whether by average assets, total assets, or number of institutions, according to Becker; previously the perception was that the state charters had an advantage. These numbers “should be in balance,” which they nearly are, he said. The Long Haul Becker paralleled the beginning of his NAFCU experience to being on an ice hockey rink. “For a while here, I felt like I was the puck. It was one thing after another. Not a lot of time to sit back and reflect and think,” he recalled. He also admitted that he had not had much experience in that anyway. “I came from a background where, in the military, you worked at a job for two or three years, so you had two or three years to make your mark and do whatever you wanted to do with that job because you were going to get moved out. “If I made a mistake, I came into the job here like that. At the same time, I think it worked because we got a fast transition to where I wanted to be than we would have otherwise.” NAFCU/PAC has certainly come far in that time, far outdistancing previous records in the last two years, as well as NAFCU’s general prowess and presence on Capitol Hill. “We’ve done a lot on Capitol Hill,” Becker said. “I think we’ve taken our presence on Capitol Hill to the next level.” He indicated the event NAFCU co-hosted for Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) at the Democratic National Convention and the event for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) at the Republican convention. NAFCU also participated in a number of inaugural events. NAFCU/PAC, which helped fund all of this, climbed into the top 15% of all PACs the last election cycle (2003-2004). Becker pointed out that NAFCU lobbyists and board members were in Congressman Spencer Bachus’ (R-Ala.) office the first day of the congressional session to discuss credit unions’ net worth issue with the Financial Accounting Standards Board’s proposal “and look how fast we are out of the box as a result.” But there is more to be done, Becker said “First of all, I would say we’ve been fortunate-no big goofs,” he said. However, he recognized, “We’re a small association. I wish we could do more in the financial education arena.” Financial education is key in teaching about credit, financial responsibility and savings to people of all ages. NAFCU does have FDIC’s Money Smart program on its Web site and is working with a credit union from New York to translate into Spanish. Despite all the accomplishments regarding communication, Becker came back to communication as an area still needing work. “We’re not doing a good enough job of letting our members know all the things we do,” he said. In all, NAFCU has 804 members, which has held fairly steady in recent years, representing 62.1% of federal credit union assets. “I think we have a pretty stable membership. What I’d like to do, however, is build it up,” Becker said. Since its inception, NAFCU has been known for its capture of the largest federal credit unions. Of the 48 federal credit unions over $1 billion in assets, NAFCU counts 39 among its membership. NAFCU also has 89% of federal credit unions between $500 million and $1 billion in assets. But, as the assets shrink, so does NAFCU’s membership. For credit unions between $100 and $200 million, NAFCU only counts 40% as members; the smallest credit unions are in the single digit percentages. Becker said the organization is working to recruit smaller members and completed a small member survey that helped identify some issues. One of the main things they found was that small credit unions do not want to be segmented out and so the organization killed its small member newsletter but began posting marketing-type articles on its Web site, downloadable for small credit unions to use. At an NCUA Partnering and Leadership Successes workshop he attended, Becker said NRS Community Development Federal Credit Union CEO Eunice Rogers raised the value of being a NAFCU member during her panel’s discussion. NAFCU needs to tout its value to small credit unions, he said. Becker commended Matz on discussing the decrease in small credit unions. Over the last four years 6% of small credit unions have grown over the $10 million in assets threshold, while 22% are gone from mergers and liquidations. “The really sad thing is that there are no new ones starting up,” Becker said. He pointed out that there’s a similar trend among community banks. Becker cited a recent speech by FDIC Vice Chair John Reich, in which he called the lack of start-ups a threat to community banking. “That’s a reason why in my view, the banks and credit unions need to join together, particularly the community banks, for regulatory relief, because in the interim, as they sit and throw ducks in the water-yellow ducks-they’re dying on the vine,” he said. “The tax exemption issue is not getting anywhere on the federal level. So they can continue to die on the vine while the larger banks continue to grow and do very well because the regulatory burden doesn’t bother them nearly as much as it does the smaller institutions, or they can decide they want regulatory relief.” Becker specifically pointed to the Bank Secrecy Act and the PATRIOT Act following 9-11, which acknowledging that, often, the only way to catch the bad guy is to follow the money trail. NAFCU must continue to forge ahead on this issue and numerous others, Becker said. “I think the decreasing number of credit unions is going to continue to be a challenge and to solve the problem of the decreasing number of small credit unions is going to continue to be a problem and a challenge. I don’t know what the solution is.” He continued that another problem for credit unions is that they will continue to be harassed by the bankers. “I think that credit unions need to do more to articulate who we are, what we are, and why we are different than other financial institutions. We’ve been saying that for years too. Some CEOs have said we should have been more aggressive earlier in saying, `Wait a minute folks. Remember who you are and what you’re about.’ And that may be true.” To steer NAFCU down the path that Becker now has envisioned for the organization, which only leads to the future, he stated, “I think we’ve also got a responsibility to look around the corner, think ahead, think strategically what’s going to happen, and what we can do to help [members] with the challenges they may be facing from the trends we’ve seen occurring.” When and if the time comes for Becker to exit the credit union movement, he hopes people will remember, “He cared about the community, made the community better to the extent he could, was focused on us. Got up in the morning thinking about us and went to bed thinking about us and how [NAFCU] could help us. [NAFCU's] been more able to serve our members to help them better serve their members.” [email protected]

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