CUNA Board to Foster New Vision for CU Movement

‘At stake is our ability to define ourselves.’

June 22, 2011

The CUNA board will develop a new strategic vision “that will rally and guide the credit union movement, unify us, and help us reach our full potential with the American consumer,” CUNA Chair Harriet May said Tuesday.

“But this will not be a CUNA staff, vendor, or even board initiative,” she said. “This will draw on the best and the brightest minds throughout our movement. It will be more than a vision statement—it will set the direction from which specific strategies and actions will flow. At stake is our ability to define ourselves, rather than have others define us.”

The initiative is “in the preliminary stages, and we’ll need broader input. But I am confident of this: Any new strategic vision and plan for the future will be firmly rooted in those attributes that have made our movement great these past 100 years—our cooperative principles, our not-for-profit structure and our 'people helping people'philosophy. These are undeniable, and the foundation of our success.”

May, president/CEO of $1.7 billion asset GECU in El Paso, Texas, discussed areas of concern to credit unions, calling interchange a “huge issue, affecting every one of us with a debit card program.

“The Federal Reserve’s final rule is due out any day. The general expectation is that it will be an improvement over the original proposal. How much of an improvement remains to be seen, but it very likely will be better than before. And that is a testament to your activism on this issue.”

While the final Senate vote to delay interchange was disappointing, she said, it was a majority, “with 54 of 99 senators voting with us, including 12 who voted for the amendment last year but voted against Durbin this time.

“Your work at the grassroots level made that happen,” she continued. “The half a million contacts you made to Congress prior to the vote was just extraordinary. While the final tally fell six votes short of the 60 we needed, the signal sent was unmistakable: A majority of U.S. senators determined the Fed proposal was flawed. That message has not been lost on the Fed as they finalized their rule. Neither have the concerns expressed in the more than 5,000 comment letters that credit unions sent to the Fed.”

May noted that Sen. Durbin and others “said on the floor, for the record, that if the exemption for smaller institutions doesn’t work, they’ll fix it. And we plan to hold them to their word.”

May also addressed the “fast and furious” changes in the financial services industry. Relevance to consumers is “a much greater challenge” but the movement “will meet the challenge. By aligning together, we can become the financial institution of choice for American consumers. Why shouldn’t we be? We are trusted. We provide phenomenal value. And our cooperative business model is exactly right for these times.”

May outlined the top challenges credit unions face:

  • An aging membership and its needs for services. “As the baby boomers move into their retirement years, we need to have the product lines, the reach, and convenience to provide the wealth management services the boomers will demand.”
  • Reaching young members. All financial institutions are vying to attract younger people, but CUNA’s new Environmental Scan reports that 70% of consumers ages 18 to 24 are “not at all familiar” with credit unions. Mobile banking and social media are two essential ingredients for reaching the younger market.
  • Serving the Latino market. Credit unions have made big strides in understanding cultural differences, getting out into the communities, and hiring the right personnel. “But this will be an ongoing challenge.”
  • “Too much fragmentation” within the credit union movement. “Too many of us circle the wagons around ourselves instead of circling the wagons around our whole [movement], when instead we could be working together to find solutions that will benefit us all.”
  • Ongoing legislative/regulatory issues. Credit unions must contend with securing member business lending legislation, gaining access to supplemental capital, new rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, scrutiny of our tax status, and educating our corps of volunteers to cope with it all.