The League of Southeastern Credit Union & Affiliates’ CEO Mike Mercer will receive the cooperative community’s most prestigious honor when he’s inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame this spring.
“Mike is absolutely deserving of this immense honor,” said Hank Halter, president/CEO of Delta Community CU, Atlanta, Ga. “He’s been a pleasure to work with, and I’ve learned a lot about the industry from him. I’m happy to support and honor him.”
The National Cooperative Business Association – the primary voice for cooperatives in the U.S. – established the Cooperative Hall of Fame in 1974 as a way to honor those “whose contributions to cooperative business have been genuinely heroic.”
Today, the hall of fame is sponsored by the Cooperative Development Foundation (CDF), a non-profit affiliate of NCBA that promotes self-help and mutual aid in community, economic and social development through cooperative enterprises.
Mercer will be one of four cooperative leaders honored at the Cooperative Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on May 6, 2020. They will join 172 members inducted into the hall of fame over the past 45 years – including Edward Filene, the father of the U.S. credit union movement, who was inducted posthumously in 1976.
Induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame isn’t easy to obtain. Each member has demonstrated innovation, leadership and vision beyond the requirements of his or her positions in the cooperative sector. Members have also achieved identifiable and lasting changes to improve and promote cooperatives; have inspired and persuaded others to advance the cooperative system; and have been recognized for work relating to cooperatives, according to CDF.
To be considered by CDF for induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame, individuals must be nominated by their peers. Mercer was nominated by 10 cooperative leaders from the U.S. and Poland.
His nomination then passed strenuous review by both a CDF selection committee and the board of directors of NCBA.
Marshall Boutwell, president/CEO of Peach State FCU, Lawrenceville, Ga., said he wasn’t surprised about the honor – he considered Mercer an ideal candidate for the Cooperative Hall of Fame.
“Over his career, Mike has demonstrated a rather tremendous vision for cooperatives,” Marshall said. “He is very driven by creating opportunities for collaboration and cooperation. He’s said it before – and I agree with him – that is not normal human instinct. If you’re truly going to collaborate and cooperate, everybody has to give a little. Most people have a tendency to think along the terms of ‘what’s in it for me.’ But not Mike.”
Mercer’s career with credit unions reaches back almost four decades and, in that time, his influence in the cooperative banking space has been felt both in the U.S. as well as overseas.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, he used his knowledge of credit unions and his belief in their ability to improve lives to help the citizens of Poland. He formed the Poland-Georgia Credit Union Partnership Program, which allowed Polish credit unions to draw from the experience of U.S. credit unions.
More than 2.5 million credit union members in Poland still benefit from this program, which became a model for other international league partnerships. In 2007, the Polish government awarded Mercer the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a non-Polish citizen – the Knights Cross.
Back home, Mercer is credited with securing the support for H.R. 1151 – also known as the Credit Union Membership Access Act – from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The passage of this law ensured the survival of the credit union movement after the Supreme Court ruled against a broader interpretation of the Federal Credit Union Act.
Across the Southeast, Mercer is known for championing financial products and services that meet the needs of working-class members. He even coined the phrase “helping people afford life” to help describe the credit union mission. The Georgia Credit Union Affiliates successfully used this phrasing to champion credit union causes for years – and now the LSCU has begun utilizing the same words to describe the credit union difference.
As he became a role model in the credit union industry, Mercer sought to spread the “helping people afford life” message by teaching others. He pioneered the Georgia Credit Affiliates’ Learning Journey as well as the Idea Institute, which allows credit union leaders to share expertise with one another and with cooperative leaders outside the credit union system.
He has worked with credit union leaders to create Credit Union House, Cooperative Services Inc., CSCU Shared Services Centers, Credit Union Loan Source, CU Partnerships, League InfoSight and CU PartnerLink.
Mercer has also chaired the Credit Union National Association board and the American Association of Credit Union Leagues. He’s chaired the National Cooperative Bank twice.
He’s also become highly decorated, winning the 1997 AACUL Eagle Award, the 2005 Georgia Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2015 Herb Wegner Memorial Lifetime Achievement Award and the 2016 National Cooperative Bank Stan Dreyer Spirit of Cooperation Award.
It’s for those reasons – and many others – that credit union leaders nominated Mercer for induction into the Cooperative Hall of Fame.
“Mike is a class act,” Marshall said. “He is an interesting person who is highly ethical and principled in his dealings. He’s just one of the good guys as far as I’m concerned.”