GAC Kicks Off With Small Credit Unions Thinking Big

CUNA CEO tells Small Credit Union Roundtable attendees to not sell themselves short, and that credit unions need to focus on the real competition, not each other.

Small credit unions loom large to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, CUNA CEO and former congressman Jim Nussle told attendees at the Small Credit Union Roundtable on Sunday at the first day of the Governmental Affairs Conference at the Washington Convention Center.

Nussle told the group of about 200 people that lawmakers are people, too, and he advised that the Hike the Hill visits be just one part of the movement’s legislative approach. Credit unions should also make the effort to invite their lawmakers to board meetings and other settings to help deepen the relationships.

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That’s true for credit unions of all sizes, Nussle told the group. I know from experience that those relationships members have with their small credit unions matter to your legislators. Those are their constituents, said the former longtime Iowa representative to Congress.

Telling the credit union story also is a way for credit unions to combat the way fintechs and other lenders are using the message of financial inclusion and opportunity that really belongs in the credit union wheelhouse.

They’re trying to sound like us, like they’re for the individual, about helping make dreams come true, Nussle said. But they’re there for the profits, and they’re appropriating our story. We’ve got to take it back.

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While the need for leaders of the member-owned financial cooperative movement to share the credit union difference is taking on new urgency, Nussle also warned that with all the sound and fury around banker attacks and fintech disruption, there’s one competitor credit unions should not be focusing on: themselves.

We must not devolve into co-opetition instead of cooperation, he told the group. We’re seeing too many credit unions that think they have to compete against other credit unions, too. That’s wrong and ridiculous. It’s in the DNA of credit unions to cooperate.

Nussle said he would be revisiting that theme in his general session speech this week, but Denny Siemers already got the message. The CEO of Town and Country Credit Union ($26.4M, Harlan, IA) in Nussle’s home state says he regularly relies on help from his friends to fund the lending pipeline for his 2,800-member community credit union.

Those friends are other Hawkeye State credit unions who buy CDs from Town and Country at lower rates than they could get elsewhere. They still make money, of course, and they’re helping the movement itself by helping one of their own help its members, Siemers observed.

The annual roundtable is sponsored by CUNA’s Small Credit Union Committee, which is now in its 20th year of tracking and advocating for issues affecting credit unions of generally $100 million and below.

The committee’s chair is Teri Robinson, CEO of Ironworkers USA Federal Credit Union ($32.8M, Portland, OR). She told the group Sunday that highlighting this year’s challenges are helping small credit unions plan for leadership succession, dealing with CECL loan reserve changes, working with the NCUA on the compliance load, and cybersecurity.

March 10, 2019

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