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SAN DIEGO – CUNA’s Women’s Leadership Summit concluded Wednesday, June 15 with a panel that featured four prominent women CU industry leaders discussing industry issues, as well as the challenges women face as leaders. The panel included Mary Martha Fortney, president/CEO of the National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors; Nancy Pierce, president of Tipton Research Group, former CUNA chair and president of Mazuma CU; Mary Madden, president/CEO of Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union; and Mary Cunningham, president/CEO of USA Federal Credit Union. Hot topic industry issues included the future of small credit unions, the importance of political involvement, and board term limits. Cunningham, who heads the $646 million, San-Diego based USA FCU, addressed the future of small credit unions by retelling her own career history, which included her first CEO position at a $4 million credit union in Oklahoma. “Although small credit unions are near and dear to my heart, I believe the future of small credit unions is not real bright, unfortunately,” she said. “Consolidation is a fact of life because economy of scale is not easy to achieve.” Cunningham continued, saying, “Instead of striving for the protection of small credit unions, we should be fighting for good service, and sometimes in order to give your members that level of service, you have to consolidate.” Cunningham said she has merged smaller credit unions in her career, and if both credit unions are open and honest with what they wish to accomplish, as well as what they are not willing to concede, both parties will benefit. All panelists opposed the idea of term limits for board members. “You learn to work with the cards you’re dealt, and do the best you can,” said Madden, who has been involved in two large-scale credit union recovery efforts and currently heads the nearly $2 billion Hudson Valley FCU, headquartered in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Term limits are not the solution, the solution is good governance. Your board has to continue to be active learners and stay well engaged.” All panelists stressed the importance of political and community involvement as a way to protect the credit union industry from the continuing attacks from bankers. “It hurts that we can’t quantify to Congress our contributions to the community,” Cunningham said, noting that meeting the needs of the community is an important difference between credit unions and banks. Pierce also stressed the importance of community involvement, saying “even if you’re not a community credit union, we must continue to differentiate ourselves from other financial providers, and that includes being a part of the community.” In speaking about attacks from the banking industry, Madden observed that community bankers “have their eye on the wrong ball.” “That’s the strategy of the big bankers, to keep the small bankers focused on us instead of them, because they are the ones merging and gobbling the small banks up,” Madden said. Fortney, who has had a notable career in Washington, D.C., including a post for then-President Jimmy Carter, pointed out the importance of being active in all levels of government – local, state and national. She also recommended involvement in all facets of the industry, from local league chapters to national trade associations. The panelists had much to offer in the way of career advice, including how to balance career and family, and how women should present themselves in a professional manner. Cunningham stressed the importance of being willing to relocate in order to further your career. “Many women are left behind because their spouse won’t relocate,” she said, adding, “If you are career-minded, you need to have a serious talk with your spouse and come to the understanding that both of your careers are important.” Cunningham credited part of her success to her husband’s willingness to relocate. Interestingly, Pierce and Cunningham, having both been involved in the CUNA organization, did not originally support the idea of a women’s conference. “One of the reasons why it took CUNA so long to provide this seminar was that we didn’t feel we needed to be singled out as women,” Pierce said, “but today, I’ve changed my mind.” Cunningham agreed, saying “Women are still in an uphill battle in being accepted in leadership roles in business, and as long as that’s the case, I can continue to justify the need for conferences like this.” Cunningham added, however, that most of her mentors have been men, and in her experience, men in the credit union industry are supportive of women advancing. “I think the reason that there are so few women CEOs of credit unions over $400 million is because of who does the actual hiring,” she said, noting that most boards are still made up of older men who may have outdated biases toward women. Pierce added that it may be time to recognize that men may need similar conferences to address their own issues, and women should be prepared to step back and allow them to organize an event of their own. “We need to be comfortable enough with where we are today and what we have accomplished, and not insist that we be involved in every single thing,” she said. -

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