Inside Washington

Tough Times Are Opportunistic Times

An overwhelming tide of satisfied members can help CUs seize opportunities

April 1, 2013

If you talk to seasoned credit union leaders about their roles today, you may very well hear that life in credit union land isn’t as enjoyable as it once was.

Why? One core reason is the burdensome regulatory environment. Another reason you may hear is that credit unions aren’t as collaborative as they once were.
Some say the low-rate environment and the still lackluster economy pose challenges of historic proportions. There’s certainly a lot to worry about if you’re a credit union leader today.
But there also has never been more opportunity. Never before has the for-profit banking sector scored so low in satisfaction and trust.
What once seemed like an insurmountable credit union weakness— fewer physical locations than banks—has been virtually erased by the ever-growing power of national shared branching, ATM networks, and the ability to serve members remotely in a mobile world.
Members can deposit checks using smartphone cameras or pay bills from anywhere that has a cell phone signal. Yes, the environment is challenging, but it’s darn exciting too!
Credit unions also are well positioned by virtue of their very structure. As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, credit unions win the war for consumers who want to do business with local, values-based organizations. From going green to going lean, people want to do business with organizations that care. Credit unions have the values box checked.
It’s certainly hard to understand why credit unions haven’t been empowered by Congress and the regulators to do even more to help the economy. But credit unions can overcome that challenge as well. They can win by creating an overwhelming tide of satisfied member- owners.
Members are the best weapon against recessions, burdensome regulations, and a stalled Congress. When members are on our side, those other barriers will splinter.
This is why CUNA launched its new vision: “Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner."
This vision isn’t about fluff. It isn’t just to create a new tagline. It’s for credit unions, the CUNA/league system, system partners, and anyone else connected to credit unions, to unite together and start to speak collectively and work collectively. We do have an “ask” of credit unions.
While we in the CUNA/ league system are working harder to get better on Capitol Hill and with the regulators, we are asking credit unions to support our efforts to “Remove Barriers, Create Awareness, and Foster Service Excellence” so the vision can be achieved. To do that, we’ve unveiled a menu of items for credit unions to tackle that will help the entire system move forward. Find them at
If Congress knew how much our 96 million members value their credit unions, it would be virtually impossible to stop us from achieving proactive legislation on Capitol Hill. Awareness can play a bigger role in our advocacy efforts than many realize, and that’s why it’s such a core part of achieving the vision.
Awareness also influences our regulatory environment. While the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has certainly worked with CUNA to ease some burdensome regulations, it has completely missed the boat on its exemption authority.
Why isn’t the CFPB exempting credit unions from the bulk of its regulations when it’s well aware that many of its rules and regulations are solutions to problems that don’t exist in the credit union system? We need a tide of member support to start turning these challenges into opportunities.
Credit unions are sometimes reluctant to get their members involved in political or regulatory advocacy. That’s understandable. But we’re in such a dynamic time on the legislative and regulatory fronts that we must be willing to rally all of our resources—including members—if we’re serious about winning.
The CUNA/league system is here to help and to shepherd credit unions into this new territory of advocacy.
PAUL GENTILE is CUNA’s executive vice president of strategic communications and engagement. Contact him at 202-508-6793.