A: There’s a huge temptation to say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But any good advocacy strategy is subject to evolution. We’ve had a lot of success with our 360-degree advocacy, and there’s no reason to back off it.
We want to determine the best way to advocate in a post-pandemic environment. The Capitol has been closed for almost two years.
Some leagues brought folks to D.C. for Hike the Hill, but much of that work is still done virtually. We’ll have a bunch of credit union advocates in Washington for the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), and we’ll be engaging with lawmakers. But it will look and feel much different than it has in the past.
It’s a question of what we need to change to meet lawmakers and policymakers where they are while we’re presenting the best message to Congress. We want to make sure credit union advocates tell a unified story and that we’re advocating in close partnership with our state leagues. None of that needs to change.
The pandemic closed the Capitol, but that’s not what’s keeping it closed. There are significant security concerns following the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and that’s the key driver in why it is extraordinarily difficult to get into the Capitol or the Capitol office buildings.
Before the pandemic, congressional offices operated similarly in that they accepted meetings from constituents, were excited to see them, and would put 20 people in a room designed for three. It was an open and welcoming environment.
In 2022 and beyond, some congressional offices will prefer to meet virtually, limit the number of people who come into the office, or hold meetings off the Capitol campus. That will affect our short- and long-term advocacy.
A: I would like to advance our charter enhancements or at least get some bills a little further through the process, if not into law. That sets us up nicely for the next Congress and gives us a running head start.
The first year of [President Joe] Biden’s administration from a regulatory perspective has been slower than we anticipated—there haven’t been many new rules proposed or issued that are detrimental to credit unions. Keeping that pace slow would be success.
A: Yes, that’s one of the bigger threats to credit unions and how they serve members. We are the original consumer financial protectors. We’re member-owned, which imparts a lot of consumer protections.
It becomes complicated when you have bureaucrats in Washington constantly changing the rules. Overdraft protection, for example, is something members opt into and that credit unions provide fairly. When you make it more complicated and add rules to it, you make it more difficult to provide.
That’s a specific concern we have, but it’s thematic of our broader concern with changes in consumer protection regulation. When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created, we were told it wouldn’t have any impact on credit unions. We knew that wouldn’t be the case because anytime a rule is changed it impacts credit unions.
When credit unions must spend more money to comply with rules coming out of Washington, they’re providing fewer resources to members.
We have a new CFPB director. As he gets his feet under him, I expect a more robust rulemaking agenda.
Overdraft litigation is a big threat because it can set policy through the courts as opposed to the regulators or Congress.
Another threat comes from NCUA. It has to do with Chairman Todd Harper’s desire to raise the normal operating level of the share insurance fund significantly higher than Congress thinks it ought to be.
Congress has said clearly it should be at 1.3% of insured shares. Chairman Harper has indicated he wants the authority to take it much higher than that. Again, that’s literally taking money out of credit union members’ pockets. It’s misguided and unnecessary.
A: They haven’t evolved much. As best as I can tell, their strategy is to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.
They reflexively oppose every charter enhancement or charter normalization bill we put forward, wanting us to operate like it’s 1934 when the banking industry doesn’t look anything like it did in 1934—or even 10 years ago. A natural evolution needs to take place with any charter.
We succeed because credit unions knock it out of the park for their members. When we share what credit unions are doing, policymakers understand the credit union tax status is one of the best investments they make on behalf of their constituents.
We’re in a good place because we’re fulfilling our mission, improving members’ financial well-being, and advancing the communities we serve. That’s the essence of the tax status.
A: Seeing people. The 2020 CUNA GAC was one of the last normal things we did before the pandemic. I’m hoping it will be one of the first normal things we do in the post-pandemic environment.
This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Credit Union Magazine. Subscribe here.