New CUNA Board Chairman Maurice Smith is a self-professed credit union nerd, and it's a label he wears loudly and proudly.
"I might not get an Olympic medal for credit administration. I’m sure there is no Oscar for best asset/liability modeling," Smith says. "I’ve got something better: I have the gratitude of members who tell me how we have changed their lives. We give every member an equal opportunity to thrive. This is our reward for a job well done. A bit nerdy? You bet it is."
Smith, CEO of $1.9 billion asset Local Government Federal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., discusses his goals as CUNA chairman, his commitment to the credit union movement, and his proudest achievements as a leader.
Q: What issues will you address during your term as CUNA Board chairman?
The chairman’s agenda depends largely on the collective consensus of the entire board. The CUNA Board chairman’s role is to ensure the governance process works as it should. This means each director receives fair and ample opportunity to contribute to the dialogue on policy, strategy, and CUNA’s direction.
I see the chairman’s responsibility as a facilitator for effective governance. During board meetings, the chairman furthers the agenda by calling upon subject matter experts to testify on important issues.
The chairman opens the floor for proposals from staff and committee representatives on matters that require the board’s action. The chairman should keep a watchful eye on fellow directors to encourage engagement from all.
Outside of board meetings, the chairman represents the will and shared direction of the board. This is an important point to emphasize.
The chairman does not pursue a personal agenda. Like all directors, the chairman is committed to a fiduciary duty of loyalty to CUNA. Expanding on this idea, this means I am beholden to the board’s verdicts. It would be unsuitable for the chairman to act in a manner contrary to the board’s course heading.
As for my personal goals, I want to pay homage to the rich history of CUNA and the chairs that have preceded me. I remember my first CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference in 1993. I was captivated by the display of credit union philosophy on such a grand stage. I thought to myself how impressive it is to see so many credit union professionals and volunteers from every walk of life.
I have goose bumps just reminiscing about the experience. That’s how I continue to feel today. If I’m able to represent CUNA with the grace and skill of my predecessors, I will be satisfied.
Q: How can credit unions remain relevant in the financial services arena?
I don’t think relevance is the right standard for the future of credit unions. Credit unions should aspire to be the leading financial services provider for all consumers and businesses.
Credit unions represent everything consumers are hungry for today. If we listen closely to the growing calls for fairness, affordability, inclusion, equity, and opportunity, we quickly find a tone familiar to the credit union way.
Here’s what’s nagging at me these days: We know credit unions hold the moral high road for financial services. We know that cooperative credit is the best model for empowering communities to create economic development. We work hard every day to show members how to be confident financial consumers.
The challenge we have is, how do we supersize our model so every consumer realizes what we already know?
In economic terms, when credit unions operate at less than our market potential, we’re actually rationing our services to the public. I don’t know about you, but credit unions should find rationing a repugnant notion.
To think that some members, or eligible members, should be denied the benefits of credit union services because of market forces that restrain our potential should be unsettling to us all. I believe we have a philosophical destiny to pursue the expansion of credit union thinking to consumers desperate for a fighting chance to live better lives.
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