Steve Brobeck recently retired as executive director of the Consumer Federation of America (CFA).
After serving on the CFA Board from 1976 to 1979, he was appointed executive director in the spring of 1980.
Brobeck now serves as a senior fellow with the organization.
CUNA News talked to Brobeck about CFA’s relationship with credit unions and CUNA.
CUNA News: Does CFA advocate for credit unions?
Brobeck: CFA recognizes that, unlike banks, credit unions are member-owned cooperatives whose decisions reflect the collective interests of their members, not those of external investors.
That’s why credit unions, in general, do more than banks to encourage savings and sustainable lending, limit fees, charge lower and fair loan rates, treat down-on-their-luck debtors more sympathetically, and encourage sensible financial practices.
And by setting high standards in the financial services marketplace, credit unions benefit not only their own members but also the customers of competing banks.
CUNA News: Can you describe the history of the CUNA-CFA relationship?
Brobeck: CUNA was instrumental in the founding of CFA in 1968. You were an incorporator and initial board member.
Since then, you have continued to be a leader within CFA by serving on our board of directors, leading policy resolution subcommittees, encouraging credit unions and related groups to join CFA, and communicating credit union perspectives to other CFA members.
Today, leaders from CUNA, CUNA Mutual, and several other credit union groups serve on the CFA Board and participate actively in policy resolution committees.
Dozens of credit unions also participate in the America Saves program managed by CFA, many of which have been recognized for their outstanding efforts to promote personal saving.
National credit union leaders, with other consumer cooperative leaders, meet with CFA staff to discuss priorities and cooperation on a quarterly basis.
CUNA News: CUNA and CFA are both good guys on Capitol Hill. What messages do the organizations share?
Brobeck: CFA and CUNA have joined together on many occasions to oppose taxation of credit unions and support their ability to expand fields of membership.
CFA’s efforts have included letters to Congress, a U.S. Supreme Court amicus brief, a major study, and communications to other consumer groups. CFA has also worked with CUNA to help ensure that competing auto lenders do not enjoy unfair advantages.
Particularly in recent years, as policymakers have sought to check anti-consumer practices by for-profit institutions, CFA and CUNA have not always advocated the same positions on regulations.
CFA recognizes the regulatory burdens often placed on credit unions, especially smaller ones, and always directs its advocacy at the for-profits.
CUNA News: What role can credit unions play in helping consumers achieve financial independence?
Brobeck: Credit unions should continue to offer an array of attractive services to consumers that conveniently and efficiently meet their financial needs.
Credit unions should also continue to view their members holistically by anticipating their specific needs and challenges, and providing them good information and advice about sensible financial practices.