Maurice Smith

Pure governance magic

Your CUNA Board practices credit union values.

September 6, 2018

Serving as the chairman of your CUNA Board is one of the highlights of my nearly 40-year career. From this perch, I have gained a fuller appreciation for the genius of the cooperative governance system.

Please indulge me as I share a few observations.

I am joined on the CUNA Board by a group of dedicated and talented directors. This is not an overstatement. Each board member brings a unique perspective to the issues confronting credit unions today.

The diversity of ideas, perspectives, and experiences from credit union and league leaders informs the board in making rational decisions. But this isn’t what inspires me the most.

Most of you don’t have the opportunity to sit in on a CUNA Board meeting. For this reason, you don’t often see the board at work.

This may be a little inside baseball, but let me provide a glimpse into a typical CUNA Board discussion.

The conversation usually begins with the presentation of a proposal to improve or enhance the credit union system in some way. Sometimes, the question on the table is a recommendation to build upon a policy position.

Your CUNA staff provides the contextual facts and background for the proposition. What happens next is pure governance magic.

Your CUNA directors proceed to ask insightful questions. Board members want to know how the proposal aligns with CUNA’s strategies and values. We often consider and debate alternatives, and raise new concepts.

Directors demand to understand how actions will impact our member credit unions. Ultimately, a direction arises from a consensus.

Our system of representation enhances the governance of your CUNA. Your CUNA Board members are elected based on charter type, credit union size, and/or geography.

Ordinarily, you’d think this would create contentious special interests among the constituent groups. This is far from what occurs on your CUNA Board.

From the discussions at the CUNA Board table, you wouldn’t know the class or size of the credit unions represented. Respect for the contributions of each director makes governance effective.

For a movement built on egalitarian principles, it stands to reason that its elected representatives should regard one another the same. The democratic ideals that govern your credit unions reflect the values shared among your CUNA Board.

We should not want the directors to act in any other way.

The world of commerce would have you believe that bigger is always better. I don’t buy this argument as an absolute truth in all situations.

The reason your CUNA board consists of different size classes and league representation is to ensure all voices are heard. This matters in an association that speaks for cooperatives.

As CUNA members, you speak clearly about where you think our priorities should rest. Advocacy is the No. 1 value you want from your trade association. We hear you loud and clear.

This is why each CUNA Board discussion returns to this fundamental question of value. We ask ourselves what more can we do to advocate for credit union growth and success. We get to the right answers by listening to all the voices that represent you.

The responsibilities and work of a CUNA director does not end with the proverbial bang of the chairman’s gavel. As professionals and volunteers, each CUNA director is invested in the credit union movement as well.

We need to hear from you constantly to make us more effective advocates.

Consider this a standing invitation to engage with all CUNA Board members. Contact us. Share your thoughts—even gripe about something if you think we have made a misstep.

After all, we are your CUNA.

MAURICE SMITH is CUNA chairman and CEO of Local Government Federal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C. Contact him at 919-755-0534.