‘Unity wins every time’
Jeremy Empol believes in the cooperative strength of the credit union movement.
In fifth grade, Jeremy Empol already knew he wanted to work in government someday.
Today, Empol seeks to make government work better for credit unions in his role as vice president, federal government affairs, for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.
Empol’s first government job was as an intern in the Washington, D.C., office of Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif. After a year working in California’s state legislature, he returned to D.C. as a staff assistant and eventually worked for two other representatives.
Along the way, Empol also gained credit union connections, including:
- Parents who relied on their credit union to stretch their budget.
- An older sister who also worked in advocacy and persuaded him to deposit $50 to join $1.2 billion asset Congressional Federal Credit Union in Oakton, Va.
- A lasting friendship with CUNA Chief Advocacy Officer Ryan Donovan, who was Sherman’s chief of staff when Empol was hired.
When Empol was ready to leave Capitol Hill, Donovan encouraged him to consider working for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues. Bob Arnould, the leagues’ senior vice president of government affairs, quickly turned him into a believer in the credit union movement.
““It’s a community, it’s a cooperative; not just a financial institution,” Empol learned.
“It took a matter of hours and I was drinking the Kool-Aid.”
Fourteen years later, he’s still a firm believer that everyone in the credit union movement should take an active role in reaching out to state and federal lawmakers.
“If you’re a member or an executive or on the board of directors, lobbying and advocacy work should be in your DNA because of the inherent value you get from your credit union,” Empol says.
U.S. representatives and senators often tell Empol how much they love their credit unions.
“I use that as an opportunity to say, ‘that’s because we’re authentic,’” Empol says. “That authenticity drives the outcomes we get because lawmakers know when you’re talking about credit unions, it’s real.”
Empol advises credit union advocates to balance data with memorable stories that illustrate their impact. Working together in credit union coalitions amplifies those messages for “big wins” over time.
For example, when a Dodd-Frank Act rollback was being crafted in 2017, credit unions seized the opportunity to persuade lawmakers to exclude one- to four-unit owner-occupied rental buildings from business lending limits. Twenty years of work went into that coalition “win.”
“This was a team win for the system, credit unions, leagues, and CUNA,” Empol says. “We did it together.”
Empol’s focus on results reflects his admiration for “no nonsense” leaders like President Grover Cleveland, who held office from 1885 to 1889 and again from 1893 to 1897. Cleveland was known for getting the job done without worrying about who got the credit.
In that tradition, Empol cares more about getting results by building credit union coalitions that effectively influence legislators, than seeking individual credit unions for collective “wins.”
“If you want the credit union movement to succeed, you have to advocate together,” Empol said. “Unity wins every time.”