What did CUNA accomplish last year, and where are we going in 2012? Looking back to 2011, CUNA:
• Stressed reducing regulatory burden. Of the more than 70 comment letters CUNA filed last year, at least one of every three urged federal agencies to dial down burdensome regulations. Further, we took the case directly to NCUA in a 14-page letter urging a “new rule” moratorium. Credit unions have told us clearly: The burden of regulation takes a toll on their service to members—their only focus, and best competitive advantage.
• Moderated the interchange rule. By helping credit unions generate more than half of the 11,000 comments the Federal Reserve received, delivering our own comment letter (commended by Fed staff and others), and hosting meetings with government officials, we convinced rule makers to improve the debit interchange rule. The rule included a higher rate for large issuers and a carve-out for small issuers that the Fed will review and Congress will enforce.
• Showed grassroots power. In just four months, CUNA and the leagues generated the lion’s share (more than 70%) of 600,000 contacts with Congress in support of “stop, study, start over” on debit interchange legislation. We convinced 12 senators to change their votes, and won a majority of the votes—but fell short of the 60 votes needed. We reminded Washington that credit unions still have what it takes for effective grassroots power, however—and will do more in the next year.
• Established single locater. Belonging to a credit union is “a smarter choice.” CUNA and the leagues put that belief into action with the aSmarterChoice.org website, the first credit union locater that includes every credit union—and helps consumers find one to join, with no hassle.
• Helped consumers choose. The website aSmarterChoice.org played a key role in helping consumers find credit unions to join prior to “Bank Transfer Day” on Nov. 5. CUNA also capitalized on unprecedented media coverage of credit unions.
Looking ahead to this year, we’ll work to:
• Protect the tax status. Last year, we kept credit unions off the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction’s radar screen. But how deficit reduction is paid for remains a question. Credit unions’ tax-exempt status is a result of their not-for-profit, cooperative structure, and their special mission to serve consumers. We’ll drive that message home all year, particularly during our Governmental Affairs Conference, March 18-22.
• Elect friendly candidates. In 2010, we supported candidates with Credit Union Legislative Action Council contributions, direct communications, independent expenditures, local volunteer and field activities, and research and polling. We’ll raise the bar this year. We’ll continue to evaluate candidates solely on their level of credit union support, as we work to keep supporters in their seats, and bring new friends to Congress.
• Keep watch on interchange. While consumers would be better off without an interchange regulation, we’ll hold federal lawmakers and rule makers to their pledges to watch over the regulation’s small-issuer exemption to ensure that it works.
• Slash the regulatory burden. Though most credit unions aren’t directly overseen by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we’ve devoted significant time getting to know the agency, so we have a voice in actions that do affect credit unions. We’ll continue to remind the agency that part of its mission is to streamline and reduce—wherever possible—regulatory overlap and red tape.
• Win greater flexibility. Member business lending (MBL) legislation advanced further than ever last year. We look forward to making more progress on it and any others that will give credit unions flexibility to serve members. There will be challenges (it’s an election year), but the MBL legislation is poised to move if an appropriate vehicle can be found in Congress.
We have much more in our sights. But, I hope this gives you the sense that your national association worked on behalf of your interests in 2011—and will keep up the pace in 2012.
BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO.