The Collaborative Connection

2015 CUNA GAC Interview with CUBroadcast 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, March 12, 2015 11:25:00 AM

My DE Experience 

Guest Blog Post By: Barbara Agin
Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, February 24, 2015 2:44:00 PM

I have been here at the League just about nine years (since July 2006) and as many of you know, I came from the dark side.

One of my first experiences at the League was handling registrations for a Supervisory Committee Conference. I showed up at a hotel in Long Branch, N.J. and met devoted volunteers who gave up their Saturday to educate themselves to better their credit unions—I was impressed.

Fast forward – I became comfortable with the industry and got to know many credit union professionals and so the story goes…

Along came Greg Michlig (June 2013), a guy from the Midwest, and he attends this Credit Union Development Educator class – CUDE. I had seen these initials before but had never really given it much thought. And then I was informed that Greg wanted Candice Nigro and I to attend a DE class in 2014.

The class was out of state – 8 full days – yikes – and in Madison, Wisconsin – double yikes.

Once enrolled, we received a welcome letter followed by various emails to inform us about the things we needed to know to prepare for the event, such as dress code and pre-work assignments. We also received a book that we were to read to help prepare for one of the pre-work assignments on the philosophy of credit unions.

Here is an excerpt from one email message: “Bring an open mind and a passion for credit unions - AND Pack very comfortable clothes and shoes. For most of the training jeans, sweatshirts, and khakis are fine or whatever is comfortable for you. For the final project date, please bring business clothes.”

While Greg was a recent DE Graduate, he shared very little. I found out there is no blood oath taken as part of the ceremony; the mystique of the program is something we all embrace to allow future DEs to fully benefit from the experience—it works!

Our facilitators Lois Kitsch and Bob Shumaker were by far the best facilitators I have ever had the pleasure to work with. They often stated “trust the process”, and they were right.

For me, a former banker who led educational sessions, this was training at its best. The days were filled with a balance of lecture (without that lecture feel), group discussions, activities, group challenges, and even included a simulation exercise and a field trip. Our class had 42 attendees and was made up of various states and even included three credit union professionals from outside of the country.

This training, which focused on core credit union philosophy, took learning and understanding to a completely different level.

Jokes were made about “drinking the Kool-Aid”, and while I joked that my drink was Kool-Aid light, I have to admit the experience affected me. I left Wisconsin wanting to make a difference. I wanted to help.

Not long after this experience, our League went through a reorganization and my department changed from “Education & Training” to “Member Experience & Education”. While this may seem to be a small change on paper, it is a huge difference on impact.

Coincidence? I think not.

April will be a year since I became a DE and while I don’t sing Kumbaya around the campfire, I would be lying if I said that I am not different because of this experience.  

What Are You MO-st Thankful For? 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, November 20, 2014 1:31:00 PM


November is traditionally a month where we give thanks; reflecting on the past year and counting our blessings. Many of us, myself included, can say, “I’m thankful for my health”—a true blessing not to be taken for granted.

Over the past ten years, this month of thanks has also become a month focused on building awareness for just that: health. Well, men’s health in particular, that is, with the Movember Movement.

Haven’t heard of it? Like many movements nowadays, this one lives—and spreads—mostly through social media through the use of hashtags (#Movember, #Movember2014) and photos of men growing out their facial hair (mostly moustaches, thus the “Mo” in Movember) in the month of November to raise awareness for men’s health issues.

It was born in Australia in 2003 with just 30 participants—what the Movember Foundation calls “Mo Bros”—then grew (no pun intended) to 4 million Mos by 2013.  Movember, through the power of the moustache and any facial hair for that matter, has become a truly global movement that is changing the face of men's health (pun intended).

Not only does the transformation of men to Mo Bros spark conversations about men’s health, but the movement also raises funds for prostate cancer programs, testicular cancer programs, and mental health programs.

This year, the League decided to jump on board by both participating (myself, Business Consultant John Hendery, and our fall intern Austin Rigby have put down our razors for the month) and challenging our member credit unions to get in on the fun and help spark conversation.

At the end of October, the League announced that we would donate $10 per participant to the cause. Then, for every day each participant went unshaven between November 1st and November 30th, the League would donate $1 to the Movember Movement. That’s $40 per participant!

We’ve had a total of 25 participants from credit unions throughout New Jersey (something we at the League are thankful for): 12 from Affinity FCU (six on Team Joe and six on Team John, who also headed up their own fundraising); four from Aspire FCU (including President/CEO Tom O’Shea); Essex County Teachers FCU President/CEO and NJCUL Board member Bob Steeves; Garden Savings FCU President/CEO Lou Vetere, Chief Sales Officer Mike Powers, and COO Nick Biason; myself, John Hendery, and Austin Rigby from the League; Rutgers FCU Board Chairman Gordon Stankavage; and Symbionce VP of Mortgage Operations Stephen DiGioia.

Phew, that was a mouthful.

If all of the NJ CU Mo Bros remain unshaven until the 30th, that means $1,000 from the League will be donated to the cause.

If you’d like to see the progress of these Mo Bros, visit the League’s Facebook page. These gentlemen have been kind enough to share photos of their growth throughout the month.

Thank you all for participating, having fun with us, and helping to raise awareness!

As Thanksgiving weekend and the final days on Movember coincide next week, I encourage all to reflect on the things for which we are MOst thankful and also bring awareness to issues that matter MOst. 

Congressional Elections: Why & How We Get Involved  

Guest Blog Post By: Chris Abeel
Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, October 23, 2014 10:47:00 AM

With the mid-term elections less than two weeks away, it seems timely to review how we decide things political here at the League.

In my nine years with the League, we’ve never formally “endorsed” a candidate, even when a strong credit union supporter has asked. We do, however, provide campaigns with financial support through the Credit Union Legislative Action Council (CULAC) and publish lawmaker scorecards so our member credit unions know where their lawmakers stand on various issues of concern.

Support decisions are taken very seriously, with substantial deliberation and collective judgment. The primary criteria have always been whether and how strongly a candidate understands and supports credit unions.

This is outlined in CULAC’s by-laws and pledged to CULAC donors who voluntarily contribute personal funds to support pro-credit union candidates. Interestingly enough, and only coincidently, CULAC support appears essentially bipartisan when tallied nationally. That’s not the strategy but rather a result of a “bottom-up”, issue-based strategy.

CULAC’s goal is to support the best candidate for credit unions, without regard to party, in each individual race.

CULAC's support decisions are made on a district-by-district basis, jointly with the relevant state league. This "bottom-up" decision-making results in what at a quick glance might look like wildly disparate ideological support. For example, CULAC’s support in U.S. Senate races has ranged from Vermont’s independent (and self-described "democratic socialist") Bernie Sanders on the left to Tea Party Republican Rand Paul from Kentucky on the right. Sanders and Paul agree on next to nothing, but are both staunch credit union allies as evidenced by their support for our tax exemption.

So while the end result might be that our support in total, spread across all districts, works out to an almost exact bipartisan split, that's essentially a coincidence and reflects the current level of bipartisan support for credit unions in Congress.

CUNA and the state leagues’ goal is to identify and engage on behalf of the strongest candidate for credit unions in that race. The bottom line is that we should always line up with solid credit union supporters regardless of whether it results in heavy Democrat support, heavy Republican support, or bipartisan support depending on the candidates in any given year.

It is also worth pointing out that every legislative issue is different, and often viewed differently through the prism of party affiliation. We've seen greater support on issues such as bankruptcy reform, reducing regulatory burden, etc. from Republicans, while on issues like MBL reform our support has been strongest on the Democrat side (in the Senate at least; it's more bipartisan in the House). And then there are issues that don't cut along partisan lines at all, most notably interchange, which saw us draw support from both sides of the aisle.

Ultimately, we have to find our support where we can, and support those who are supportive of credit unions.

Finally, similar to those annoying broadcast advertisements for the latest, greatest car deals, I have to add the following disclosures so we don’t find ourselves in hot water. Contributions to CULAC are strictly voluntary, must be from personal funds, are not tax deductible, and are used for political purposes. Corporate contributions are prohibited. Contributors will not be favored in any way for their participation nor will non-contributors be disadvantaged for their decision not to participate.

RBC – Acknowledging the Good Stuff 

Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, September 30, 2014 10:09:00 AM

Late yesterday, we heard that the NCUA will propose a revised risk-based capital (RBC) rule to be issued with a new comment period. I believe this calls for a few pats on the back all around the room.

First, to all of you who stepped up to the plate with comprehensive and thoughtful comment letters to the NCUA on the proposed rule, by attending a listening session to voice your concerns, or by delivering your message through other advocacy channels…well done.

Next, to Chairman Matz, for recognizing that the proposed rule needs significant revision, which will ultimately affect the rule’s structure to the extent that a new comment period will be necessary.

And, to Vice Chairman Metsger, for openly discussing the need for an implementation period of up to three years and a better approach to managing Interest Rate Risk. On IRR, he specifically stated, “I believe interest rate risk is important and must be addressed in the risk-based capital rule, but it should be addressed separately from credit risk. Weighting credit risk and interest rate risk with a single numerical value created conflicts that ultimately made it difficult to accurately weigh the risk of either.”

New NCUA Board member J. Mark McWatters’ comments, in a separate statement, are an early indication of his willingness to take a strong stand on such issues in a transparent manner. Importantly, he recognized the collective voice of credit unions, along with the involvement of Congress in his comments: “I am pleased that the Chairman has agreed to a new comment period for the proposed risk-based capital rules. As I stated last week, I will not consider the rules for adoption unless they are re-proposed with a robust comment period of not less than 60 to 90 days. I articulated this position out of respect for Congress and those members of the credit union community who have enthusiastically voiced their opposition to the proposed rules.

And although it’s not always wise to pat oneself on the back, I must say the work of the Leagues in activating a grassroots response to this rule throughout the country was quite significant. Through our confederated system, we worked closely with CUNA to align our efforts with their persistent advocacy, which was strongly backed by their in-depth research and analysis.

In McWatters’ statement, he added that: “…the previously proposed risk-based capital rules are deeply flawed and merit substantial revision. The devil is in the details, and I await the details before I can pass judgment on the next draft of the proposed rules.”

Considering the now universally acknowledged position that this rule is so severely flawed that revisions will trigger a new comment period based on the parameters of the Administrative Procedures Act, I would suggest there should be consideration of a completely new rule. One developed utilizing a significantly broader set of resources than in the previous process including, of course, the expansive comments brought forth through the previous comment period, the NCUA’s own RBC Practitioners Council, and continued dialogue with CUNA, Leagues, and other trade associations.

The fact that the NCUA is saying this is a new comment period, as opposed to a second comment period, leads me to believe that this may be the intent. If so, that would call for a seemingly appropriate, additional pat on the back.

Let’s Build a Bigger Bullhorn 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, September 25, 2014 12:28:00 PM

This morning, an article in the Washington Post titled “Wal-Mart teams with Green Dot on checking account” caught my eye. The content is not surprising, as we all know the ambitions of the major retailers and the United States Postal Service when it comes to expansion in the financial services arena.

Their talking points are similar across the spectrum: There are many unbanked or under-banked souls out there who need these entities to step up and fill a void that traditional financial services providers are not; there is convenience in the number of physical locations these players bring to the market; they have created a financial model that is more consumer friendly than what is already available.

Again, nothing new here in that these are the same arguments that have been made for years and will continue to be made going forward. We all know the counter-points to these statements and we know that credit unions, through their not-for-profit structure and community focus, can and do offer convenient financial services to the un- and under-banked in a purposeful, socially conscious manner.

The issue at hand is the size of the bullhorn organizations like Wal-Mart and the USPS have to get that message out. The same can be said for the big banks that often deliver a similar message as these non-traditional entrants when it comes to convenience and service. In many cases, the very things they are promoting are exactly the same (home banking services, remote deposit capture, purchase protection on credit card transactions, no fee checking, 0% APR on balance transfers) as offered by many credit unions.

And as for unions boast more than 5,000 branch locations and over 2,000 kiosks nationwide in the credit union-owned CO-OP Shared Branching network, equating to the fourth largest financial institution branch presence in the United States, (October 2012 comparison based on claims located at The CO-OP ATM network, offered to participating credit unions’ members surcharge-free, is larger than the networks offered by big banks such as Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. (September 10, 2012 comparison based on claims located at, and

In New Jersey alone, there are 62 Shared Branch locations offered through membership in one of 34 participating credit unions and 679 CO-OP Network-branded ATMs.

This is not a new discussion. We have acknowledged the need to combine our resources and hone our focus on a common brand and integrated marketing approach. With few exceptions, credit unions cannot go it alone and effectively get their individual message out to the masses.

Here in New Jersey the Banking You Can Trust program was launched to serve this purpose and has been increasingly successful in getting the credit union message out to consumers. Through billboard campaigns, television and radio spots, event participation, sponsorships, social media, and community involvement, we have grown activity on the Web site. But our bullhorn needs to be bigger. 

There are some good-sized credit union bullhorns in other states, and in those states credit unions realize greater consumer awareness and share of market. While the expensive media market in which we live presents a challenge in itself, the economic lag in New Jersey continues to put pressure on credit unions’ bottom lines and makes financial participation in the program understandably difficult for many credit unions. That being said, we will never compete in the share of mind battle with large retailers and other new market entrants if we don’t raise our collective voice through a bigger bullhorn.

If you are not already participating in the Banking You Can Trust campaign, I ask that you give it thought. The more we work together on this initiative, the better we will be collectively.

On a separate note, I want to express my gratitude to the team here at the New Jersey Credit Union League for their excellent work on our, just-completed, 80th Annual Meeting and Convention in Atlantic City. The comments I heard from those of you who attended were exceptionally positive and that is a reflection on the attention to detail and the hard work of the League staff.

I also thank the many of you who attended to make the event a success. Without you, the credit union professionals and leaders of New Jersey, the industry partners and supporters, the top-shelf speakers and special guests, including New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, our efforts here would be for naught.

Thank you for making the New Jersey Credit Union League 80 Years Strong. 


Posted by Greg Michlig Monday, September 08, 2014 10:19:00 AM

In my previous blog post, “Time for a seat at the Fed table,” I made what I feel is a compelling statement as to why the time is right for credit unions to pursue representation on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. I was pleased to see a number of shares and retweets of the post on social media, including some well-known figures from the credit union industry. I have also had some conversations with individuals who support this idea and agree that we must act swiftly if we are to capitalize on this opportunity.

We at the New Jersey Credit Union League are doing our homework with regards to process and procedure when it comes to identifying and presenting interested candidates for consideration. Understanding that there is curiosity as to the specifics of the role of the Board of Governors, I share the following link from the Federal Reserve’s Web site:

While perusing the Web site, I also found an interesting nugget in that within the “Benefits” section of the “Careers” tab, there is a bullet that lists “credit union offices for your banking needs.” Yes, this is indeed a benefit and it is good to see that the Federal Reserve recognizes this. In the same sense, it is my hope that there is recognition of the benefit of looking to credit unions for the community financial institution perspective lawmakers have indicated they desire on the board.

This is an opportunity for credit unions to increase our visibility in federal government in a new way. With two seats open, what better time for us to press the issue?

Recently I posted a message on social media with the hashtag, #FedSeat4CUs. All credit unions and credit union supporters are urged to use this hashtag to express the need for a credit union seat on the Federal Reserve Board. With our time limited, this is one way in which we can increase momentum in what has shown to be an effective grassroots fashion. 

Should you be interested in pursuing this opportunity or know of someone we should reach out to in this regard here in New Jersey, email me at We will work with you to provide the resources and direction necessary to garner consideration. 

Time for a Seat at the Fed Table 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, August 22, 2014 9:00:00 AM

I read with interest, the August 8th column by Kate Davidson of Politico titled “White House struggles to fill Fed small-bank spot”. The basis of the piece is that after Sarah Bloom, a former Maryland banking regulator now at the Treasury Department, and Elizabeth Duke, a longtime Virginia banker, left the Federal Reserve Board, the White House has had difficulty finding candidates to fill the vacated spots. For varying reasons, including the need to divest their interest in the family banks they run, at least some of those who have been considered from the community bank sector have declined.

Another key piece and the driving force of relevance for credit unions, is that lawmakers have been pressing the administration to nominate candidates with community banking experience. I think that presents an opportunity that should be pursued.

In the column, current or past chairmen/CEOs are listed from community banks ranging in assets of $152 million up to $1 billion. If that is the range in which the White House feels comfortable, credit unions are well versed with nearly 1,000 institutions in that demographic (there are roughly 3,000 banks in that range). From there, credit unions skew even more local, with a far greater number of institutions under the $152 million mark. If the Fed needs a “community” financial institution perspective, what better voice for that than credit unions?

The credit union representative, in addition to being a Main Street voice, would also provide a consumer perspective to the Fed’s deliberations. As member cooperatives, credit unions have long been committed to providing financial services that benefit the communities and individuals they serve. It is this consumer-centric approach that would seemingly add the perspective lawmakers are pursuing for the board.

There is also merit in adding a credit union voice to the Federal Reserve Board to work towards an element of proportional balance. Financial institutions of all charter types should have representation and the bank perspective is already present in the person of at least four current Fed governors.

The clock is ticking, however, as there is a push to identify candidates for confirmation before year-end. There appears to be an opportunity here. Let’s work together to identify and encourage qualified candidates so that we can capitalize and get credit unions a seat at the table.

Foundation of 80 Years Ensures All Across Nation Can Join, Use a Credit Union 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, June 26, 2014 12:45:00 PM

If given the choice, would you prefer to be a member or a number? If you belong to a credit union, you probably understand that the value proposition of membership outweighs the “number” status associated with simply being a customer.

For 80 years, the New Jersey Credit Union League has supported credit unions in the Garden State. We’ve been proud to represent our affiliates and provide them with resources to better serve you, the consumers of our state. Here, in the communities surrounding the world’s top financial center, consumers have continually sought alternatives to big banks. Over the years, millions of New Jerseyans have made the decision to choose a credit union because we’ve made collaborative banking a success while offering first-rate member service and savings. But none of that would be possible today if it wasn’t for the work done in 1934.

The foundation for a strong credit union movement was set 80 years ago, on June 26, 1934, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law, permitting credit unions to be formed across the country. Since that day, credit unions have developed considerably. Through the years, we’ve grown in membership as we’ve broadened our services to meet the needs of our members, from mortgage lending to education loans to digital banking.

Today, nearly 100 million people nationwide choose to be members of credit unions, with over 1 million here in New Jersey. Our state has over 190 independent, consumer-owned, volunteer-led, democratically controlled credit unions here to serve you.

As not-for-profit financial institutions, credit unions strive to be your best financial partner. In addition to values-based decision making focused on the communities and members they serve, credit unions return financial benefits directly to their members with higher returns on savings, lower rates on loans, and fewer, lower fees. Bank customers benefit too, as the presence of credit unions drives down loan rates, pushes up savings rates and influences fees. In fact, New Jersey consumers realized financial benefits of more than $47 million dollars in 2013.

We believe a key reason credit unions are your best financial partner is because we listen to the needs and interests of our growing membership by fostering service excellence. With services such as online banking, shared ATM access (the largest single ATM network in the country), and the growing number of convenient branch locations – and “shared branches” among credit unions – and dedication to competitive rates, credit unions’ top priorities are centered on those they serve, not in driving profits for a small group of shareholders. As a matter of fact, The American Consumer Satisfaction Index for credit unions is 85, compared to 73 for banks. We’re proud to note that in the most recent survey, credit unions were tied for the best Customer Satisfaction Benchmark among all 43 industries reviewed. 

We also believe it’s important to remove the barriers that exist to service, and we encourage members who are interested to become engaged on issues that are important to them. Members have stood with and come to the defense of their credit unions through strong grassroots support on many occasions over our 80 years. We believe it’s important that our elected officials hear from those who benefit from credit union membership and, as the state association for New Jersey’s credit unions, we continually work to foster open-door policies at the congressional level as well as with federal and state regulators.

As we move forward, it’s essential to look back and remember why credit unions were created. Credit unions are cooperatives that were developed to promote thrift among the American people – bound together by a common set of business principles and values. Volunteer leadership. Democratic control. Economic participation. Autonomy and independence. Member education. Cooperation among cooperatives. Concern for community.

Credit unions are living up to those business principles and values. At the New Jersey Credit  Union League, we will continue to be a voice for credit unions and deliver cooperative services that facilitate their growth. Together, we will remain steadfast in our efforts to put members first here in the state of New Jersey.

Plan to Win 

Guest Blog Post By: Chris Abeel
Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, June 05, 2014 9:15:00 AM

In the midst of two of the most serious threats in recent memory to credit unions’ ability to fully serve their members, it seems timely to revisit the League’s participation in CUNA’s Plan to Win, A 435 Seat Strategy.

CUNA launched the Plan to Win in 2012 because banker opposition and overall Capitol Hill gridlock continued to stall some of our legislative initiatives. Little more than a year into the program, its importance became strikingly clear first when the credit union tax exemption came under threat, and a year later when NCUA unveiled its onerous risk-based capital (RBC) proposal.

What started as a proactive, offensive plan almost immediately demonstrated its value as a crucial defensive tool as well.

So what is the Plan to Win, A 435 Seat Strategy?

Simply put, it’s a set of advocacy goals, or vital steps, to ensure that every member credit union meets its collective responsibility to the credit union movement, so together we’re able to move lawmakers to where they “can’t say no” to credit unions.”

Let’s face it; we’ll never be able to compete with the deep pockets of bankers. But we have something bankers don’t, a committed constituency, the breadth and depth of which is the envy of every bank lobbyist. Our strength is in our numbers. Sure, bank customers outnumber credit union members, but how many bank customers actually like their bank, or more importantly, will take time to defend their bank to law and policy makers?

That’s why we regularly communicate to state and federal lawmakers the size of their credit union constituency. But the numbers alone are not enough. Lawmakers have to hear from those constituents. Otherwise we run the risk of being viewed as a paper tiger.

We got the message across when it came to municipal deposit reform with 5,000 postcards to Assembly members and 5,000 postcards to Governor Christie. Last year we got the “Don’t Tax My Credit Union” message through with 5,000 postcards to targeted members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation and more than 5,100 emails, telephone calls, and Twitter messages to our Capitol Hill lawmakers. Most recently, the system got NCUA’s attention with an unprecedented number of RBC comment letters from credit unions and lawmakers.

So how can a credit union ensure it’s meeting its collective responsibility? A good place to start is by ensuring its participation in various Plan to Win support components by regularly updating their Project Zip Code (PZC) numbers and ensuring they have an up-to-date Participation Agreement (PA) on file with the League.

PZC is safe, easy to use, and is a critical component of our advocacy program. Some 80 million CU members have already been counted nationwide. It is absolutely essential that we have 100% participation in N.J.

The law requires we receive the permission (PA) of NJCUL member credit unions in order to keep them informed of key CUNA and NJCUL federal political activities. Neither CUNA nor the League will contact any of your members directly, but it’s important that credit union professionals and volunteers know about these activities. Credit unions can decide individually whether they want to pass along this information to their members.

These tools are fundamental to communicating the size of, and mobilizing, our grassroots strength. In addition to participating in these vital Plan to Win steps, credit unions must also ensure that, at a minimum, their professionals and volunteers step up to the plate when we issue a Call-to-Action.

Credit unions should also consider participating in one or more of our various advocacy events such as the annual CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, Capitol Hill visits (Hike-the-Hill), meetings with state and federal lawmakers in their district offices, and Chapter Meetings that host elected officials as guest speakers.

As a cooperative system, each and every credit union has a responsibility not only to its own members, but to the members of every other credit union as well. While many of our credit unions are doing more than their fair share, it’s time that all assume responsibility for our mutual success.

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