Cheney: ‘We’ve Energized the Movement’

CUNA leader reflects on the strength of CUNA and the CU movement.

April 21, 2014

In March, CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney announced he would be stepping down to become CEO at $9.9 billion asset SchoolsFirst Federal Credit Union in Santa Ana, Calif., taking over for longtime CEO Rudy Hanley, who’ll be retiring.

As Bill concludes his tenure at CUNA, Credit Union Magazine asked him to reflect on the accomplishments and memories of his term in office. The following is an abridged version of our conversation.

CU Mag: What did you find most challenging in your role as CUNA CEO?

Cheney: That’s an interesting question, because what’s most challenging about this job also can be the most rewarding.

There’s never, ever, a dull moment. On any given day, we’re dealing with myriad issues that can potentially have a big impact on credit unions and 99 million Americans. And even when the government isn’t working, those issues still require attention.

I’ve been on the association side for eight years now, first at the state league level and the past four years at the national level. What has been most challenging overall is to see the layer upon layer of legislation and regulation policymakers have added with little regard for practicalities.

While most policies start out with good intentions they become very complicated as they move through the process. The consequences of much that happens in Washington create real and constant challenges, and we have to stay vigilant.

CU Mag: Did your experience as a CU CEO help you?

Cheney: There’s no question that my experience as a credit union CEO and a league president, for that matter, was important to me. As we all do, I used my past experience in my role as CUNA CEO.

Regardless of background, however, the CUNA CEO should always make his or her decisions based on what’s best for our members. That philosophy was ingrained in me early on in my work as a credit union staff member.

When I became a credit union CEO, I gained an even greater appreciation for the time and value that our volunteer board members give to this movement, and how important they are to keeping a credit union true to its mission.

I also gained a practical understanding of the challenges that legislative and regulatory issues create; the hurdles credit unions must continuously navigate to serve their members.

In my role at CUNA, I was able to share that perspective with our team and those we met with, and I think it made an important impact.

CU Mag: What advice would you give your successor?

Cheney: Keep your eye on Washington, but keep your ear on credit unions all around the country. It’s important to find a balance with policy inside the beltway and realities for our members in all 50 states.

Many of the solutions to our challenges already are being addressed by a credit union or partner somewhere, so it’s important to stay engaged with our movement, listen to what the members are saying, and stay focused on their needs.

CU Mag: What strengths should the movement build upon to ensure its future growth and vitality?

Cheney: For starters, our focus on service to members on a not-for-profit basis. The model that we have as financial cooperatives is superior to any others I’ve seen in the financial services arena, and it makes us unique.

The motivation to provide services solely for the benefit of our members puts us well ahead of any others and gives us a leg up when working for changes to enhance our charter, ensure our future—by protecting the tax exemption—and even to convince more consumers to become credit union members.

Beyond that, credit unions need to build on the passion that we share for the future of the movement, which I think is bright, so long as we continue to distinguish ourselves from our for-profit competitors.

Read the complete interview with Bill Cheney in the May issue of Credit Union Magazine.