Three top takeaways from CUNA GAC

Thoughts on ‘Open Your Eyes,’ crowdsourcing, and gender equality.

April 2, 2019

I always come away from the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) with several good ideas. And this year I had more company than usual, as the more than 5,200 who gathered in Washington, D.C., set a new attendance record.

Allow me to share three points that particularly stuck with me over the past two weeks.

1. ‘Open Your Eyes’ is about consideration

CUNA unveiled the movement-wide “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union” awareness initiative at the 2018 GAC, and has since rolled out in three states (Minnesota and North and South Carolina).

The initiative’s objective has been refined somewhat over the past year, however. As it turns out, a solid majority of Americans already are aware of credit unions. They may harbor some misperceptions—“I’m not eligible to join” and “they’re inconvenient” chief among them—but broadly speaking, people do know we exist.

The bigger issue is we’re not “top of mind” when the time comes to select a financial services provider. This helps explain why credit unions’ market share has not budged from 7% over the past three decades.

Among non-members, 72% don’t necessarily dislike credit unions. They simply don’t consider them as part of their decision process.

Our real challenge is to move CUs into the consideration category at the moment of truth. It’s a subtle difference, but one that calls for refined messaging.

It’s also one that lends itself to a cooperative approach, as a rising tide will lift all boats—particularly given banks’ massive advantage in marketing spend. Get a glimpse of the Open Your Eyes campaign at and learn how you can get involved at

2. Crowdsourcing as people helping people

CUNA President Jim Nussle also raised another warning flag regarding the messaging battle. Not only have banks closed the gap in customer satisfaction recently, he sees a more direct threat emerging from non-bank fintechs.

The crowdsourcing model of high-profile firms such as SoFi shares surface similarities with credit unions’ community focus, while lacking the depth of involvement.

It hasn’t happened yet, but Nussle wouldn’t be surprised to see a fintech eventually attempt to co-opt the “people helping people” credo.

Even if fintechs can’t live up to the substance of that mission, credit unions can’t afford  to cede the marketing ground.

3. Walking the gender equality talk

This is the one that made the biggest impression on me. During the annual economic update (always a conference highlight), CUNA Chief Economist Mike Schenk shared recent research indicating 52% of credit union CEOs are female.

The corresponding bank share is 5%. Moreover, Schenk’s data reveals no difference in financial performance based on CEO gender.

Before we break into a victory lap, however, he cautions that the numbers aren’t as rosy for large institutions: 15%  of credit unions  with more than $1 billion in assets have female CEOs.

Even among that group, though, credit unions fare more than three times better than banks on gender equality. 

Of course, the perennial challenge is to harness the energy and inspiration generated at an outstanding conference like GAC and maintain that momentum once the realities of daily responsibilities return to the mix.

These are the proving grounds of leadership and strategic vision, worthy of New Year’s resolutions.

GLEN SARVADY is managing partner at 154 Advisors.