The Collaborative Connection

It’s a Man’s World…Or Is It? 

Guest Blog Post By: Candice Nigro
Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, March 18, 2014 9:48:00 AM

As a mom of three girls, there is a certain feminism that must be maintained so they know that they can be and do anything that they want to. I encourage them to make their own choices, even though it makes me nuts sometimes. Still, whatever I am doing must be working because while they love Disney princesses, they tend to be fonder of those that make their own way and don’t need a man to help them along.

The credit union industry is a very women-centric one. Daily, I meet or speak with more women CEOs and executive team members than any other industry I have worked in. In fact, of the 14 League employees, 10 are women. It’s nice to see that some of the stigmas of the 1950s have faded.

Since I started working with credit unions 10 years ago, I have seen more and more women promoted to top leadership roles and recognized for their talents and skills, often times surpassing men. I am more of a level playing field kind of girl, but it is encouraging to see that women aren’t being forgotten simply for being women in today’s day and age.

About five years ago, the World Council of Credit Unions created the Global Women’s Leadership Network bringing together women from credit union systems around the world to support each other, network, and help improve their credit unions, communities, and lives. They currently have 530 members from more than 40 countries.

The Network has regional chapters that meet throughout the year. An upcoming meeting will be held on April 8 right in my own state at Affinity FCU where women from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut will gather together and hear from two local women credit union leaders. I plan to attend; it will be my first meeting, but I am interested to see what it is all about.

Having the opportunity to meet other women in leadership positions throughout the industry seems like a no-brainer. I’ll learn a few things about how they have succeeded, about myself and equally as important, have stories to share with my daughters about successful women.

I’m lucky to live in a country and work in an industry that treats women pretty equally. Many cannot say the same thing. I encourage you to consider attending the event. And in the name of equality, I think a few guys should attend, too…maybe you’ll learn a few things.

Click here for more information and to register.

A Look Back at the 2014 CUNA GAC 

(This is a long one…)
Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, March 04, 2014 10:55:00 AM

About 20 minutes into my 188-mile drive to the nation’s capital, I was convinced it was going to be a good trip. The mix of songs on XM’s ’80s on 8 channel was fantastic and had me energized for the five-night trip to the 2014 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference.

With a slight delay from traffic around the National Zoo (it was a beautiful day), I arrived at the Renaissance Hotel with minutes to spare before my first meeting. From 2:00 until nearly 6:00, I sat in on the CUNA Governmental Affairs Committee meeting, held in the lower level of the Renaissance. Topics were wide ranging and set the stage nicely for what conference participants were about to hear in the coming week. From there, a dinner with colleagues and re-acquaintance with some long-time friends from throughout the credit union movement. 

Note #1: There are many benefits of attending the GAC…networking is one of them. I am a huge fan of in-person networking. I believe that genuine and productive conversations happen face-to-face. While in-person meetings are often hard to schedule, I value events that foster interaction with a large number of people.

Shortly before 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, I was back in the same room in the lower level of the Renaissance for a meeting with the stakeholders in Credit Union House, credit unions’ “home away from home” in Washington, DC. This was followed by another meeting with the board and shareholders of CUNA Strategic Services. Then, the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) luncheon and meeting, with the other League Presidents in attendance and the CUNA/ACCUL executive teams. A full slate for a Sunday morning/early afternoon.

Within an hour, I was off to meet some of your League’s board members who had traveled together by train and were getting registered at the Washington Convention Center. From there, several of us attended the special session on risk-based capital, while others went to a small credit union roundtable meeting.

Note #2: NCUA’s proposed rule on risk-based capital was a key topic throughout the GAC. As I entered the room for the session on Sunday afternoon, I commented that much of what had been discussed over my first 24 hours in DC was specific to this rule. This issue sat alongside the “Don’t Tax My Credit Union” initiative atop the GAC agenda throughout the conference. This is a big deal…I addressed it early in this blog, with a post on January 30, it has been discussed at roundtables in New Jersey, and it has permeated the dialogue with CUNA and the trade press. I encourage you to read whatever you can on the issue and comment to NCUA. NJCUL is available to work with you on crafting your comment letters.

Sunday evening marked the beginning of the numerous receptions surrounding the GAC and the opening of the expansive exhibit hall.

The full conference began in earnest on Monday morning, when the bulk of the 4,400 credit union attendees packed the general session room for comments from the likes of Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland; Debbie Matz, NCUA Chairman; Pat Wessenberg, CUNA Chairman; and Bill Cheney, CUNA president/CEO.

Note #3: In my opinion, a can’t-miss moment of the GAC is the opening, featuring the Presentation of Colors by an honor guard representing all branches of the United States military, accompanied by the U.S. Marine Corps Band. Frankly, I get a little choked up at this every year.

At the tail end of the morning session, CUNA and the California/Nevada Credit Union League introduced a joint initiative in the launch of PowerComment. This is a tool to assist in preparing comment letters and is available to all affiliated credit unions. Visit www.cuna.org for additional information.

With sessions underway and the exhibit hall buzzing, the event was in full swing.

On Monday afternoon, we saw New Jersey’s own Jim Miller Jr., CIO, Liberty Savings FCU, on the center stage to accept an award for being among the nation’s best in providing direct financial benefits to members. Congratulations to the entire Liberty Savings team!

After navigating several more networking receptions, I had the privilege of seeing four long-time credit union champions honored at the annual Herb Wegner Dinner, presented by the National Credit Union Foundation. It was a moving tribute to those who have served the movement in exemplary fashion over the years. As a bonus, the dinner itself was excellent!

Sessions and exhibits continued throughout the day on Tuesday and blended into the evening slate of…you guessed it, receptions, networking, and dinner.

Several from the New Jersey contingent took the time to attend the NCUA meet & greet in the Convention Center. League Board Chair Linda McFadden and I spoke with Chairman Matz and board member Metzger. The conversations were cordial, but we were certain to note our concerns with regulatory burden and perspective, along with, of course, our dissatisfaction with the risk-based capital proposal.

From there a reception and then the New Jersey delegation dinner at Acadiana restaurant. Many of the 39 attendees from New Jersey joined us for a fun evening and, I’ll say it again, some great networking.

As the GAC began to wind down on Wednesday, activities for the Hike-the-Hill began to ramp up. With most of the delegation participating, a pre-meeting was held to review the issues of importance to take to our legislators on the Hill, including comprehensive tax reform, merchant data breaches, and member business lending. NJCUL Director of Government Affairs, Chris Abeel, led the discussion and brought in CUNA Director of Legislative Affairs, Michele Johnson, for additional perspective.

By early afternoon, we were walking the halls of Congress, with the knowledge that the comprehensive tax reform discussion draft released by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) left the credit union tax status untouched.

Following the meetings with our legislators, I can say that credit unions in New Jersey have some very strong relationships with both our congressional delegation and their staff. Of course, there is always work to do in terms of political and legislative advocacy, but from what I have seen, our approach is solid and effective.

To wrap up my final evening in the nation’s capital, I discussed some strategic initiatives over dinner with some colleagues and made a stop at the closing Gala Reception and Dance, where I ran across a few of our New Jersey folks enjoying the evening.

Note #4: Next year, I hope you’ll join us for the GAC. With credit union leaders traveling from throughout the 50 states and even internationally, New Jersey should be strongly represented. My drive was 3.5 hours… I like to drive, especially when the music is good…the train can get you there, or you can grab a quick flight if necessary. Relatively speaking, we are nearby. The content is great, the networking is valuable, the exhibit hall is educational, our New Jersey dinner is fun, and the Hike-the-Hill is meaningful.

The drive home seemed a little longer, as I was tired and had a head filled with ideas, issues, concerns, and follow-up items to tackle. It was a talk-radio kind of day. The best part was pulling in the driveway and having my 5-year-old son run out to greet me (along with an excited dog).

These trips are work. They take you away from your family and from your routine (if you are fortunate enough to have one). They consist of early mornings and late nights. They can be fun, but also monotonous at times. Most importantly, though, they are meaningful. And that, I believe, is the key to this event, and all that we do in credit unions. 

Click here to view photos of the 2014 CUNA GAC. 

Sometimes Numbers are Important 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, February 13, 2014 10:22:00 AM

Numbers surface so many times in daily life. There are numbers that some choose to ignore—age, weight, debt payments, etc. There are numbers that are incredibly important—anniversary and birth dates, your mom’s phone number, your address, and, lately, the amount of snow we will be getting. Here are some numbers that are hard to ignore...

During the first week in February 2014, New Jersey credit unions appeared in search results on aSmarterChoice.org 2,104 times—nearly half the number for ALL of February 2013. The Banking You Can Trust campaign’s advertising on Comcast.net received a 1.10% click-thru rate, up from the 0.13% average in all of 2013. In short, our repetitive, multi-faceted marketing approach is generating results!

A new campaign as part of our overall consumer awareness strategy began on February 2. In the short time that the campaign has been running, as of this writing, it has generated 209 visits to bankingyoucantrust.com with the average time those users spend on the site being 5 minutes and 58 seconds. While visitors from this particular campaign only represent about 20% of all site visitors, the nearly six minutes they have spent on the site is tremendous compared to the average time spent from all other visitors at 1 minute 35 seconds.

Another powerful number from this experimental campaign is 28%. That is the percentage of visitors from the campaign who are performing credit union searches when they visit.

Stay tuned for more information on this and a formal reveal in early March.

Numbers also relate to Banking You Can Trust in terms of support from our credit unions. We are currently receiving more support from credit unions both in number of contributors and monetarily than this time last year. We are so thankful for this support, as without it, the campaign could not be as strong as it is. If you aren’t contributing to the campaign, please consider doing so. The contribution is small as it relates to the value currently offered to participants and we are laying the foundation for future initiatives that will continue to add value.

It’s also great to see our affiliates rallying together through increased support of other programs this year, as well. More credit unions have contributed to the very popular Reality Fair program and the partnership with the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education—both of which are New Jersey Credit Union Foundation programs. Well done!

Why it’s important; overall engagement is up. Engagement is the key to creating better informed consumers and turning them into credit union members. Without credit unions’ participation it wouldn’t be possible and we wouldn’t have so many trusted partners to promote to consumers.

Regulatory Reaction 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:02:00 PM

On Monday evening I decided it would be nice to do a little light reading. Instead, I started in on NCUA’s 197-page Proposed Rule on Prompt Corrective Action—Risk Based Capital. Let’s just say I didn’t make it all the way through that evening. I did, however finish up on Tuesday and, over the past couple of days, have taken in a series of other articles through the trades and from financial analysts.

The most important reading on this topic I have done, however, has been the emails that I have received from the CEOs of a few of NJCUL’s affiliated credit unions (along with several direct conversations). As has been documented in those aforementioned trade press articles, opinions on this rule vary and there are unique circumstances related to the application of the new measures depending on the credit union.

NCUA’s description of the proposed rule is, of course, logical and favorable. As I mentioned to those CEOs who emailed, their input provides necessary context when reviewing the information. As the state association for credit unions here in N.J., it is important to receive such emails and have the direct conversations I’ve had as well.

This is not a comment letter (although NJCUL will submit one) and the concerns with this proposed rule will be more universally fleshed out during the 90-day comment period and, certainly, during the CUNA GAC in a few weeks, but here are a few initial thoughts.

On page 14 of the draft (available here) it states that “Operating a credit union involves taking and managing a variety of risks…” Credit unions have shown that relative to other financial institutions, managing risk is a strength. While there is certainly room for adjustment to measurement of Risk Based Net Worth, this approach seems to significantly impair credit unions’ ability to take and manage risk in a way that will allow credit unions to grow. Furthermore, the proposal is heavily focused on concentration risk and doesn’t appear to take into consideration risk mitigation tools such as, but certainly not limited to, put options or rate structure.

I also find it interesting that the proposal also states, relative to potential additional requirements for individual credit unions, on page 86, that “(the rule) would provide that the appropriate minimum capital levels for an individual credit union cannot be determined solely through the application or a rigid mathematical formula or wholly objective criteria, and that the decision is necessarily based, in part, on a subjective judgment grounded in agency expertise.” Agreed, although there should also be consideration of the subjective judgment of the individual credit union’s management expertise in what could be a very sound risk-based approach that may or may not fit the rigid mathematical formulas and wholly objective criteria imposed through this proposed rule.

See what I did there?

The other part of the section that is bothersome is that, while subjectivity should certainly be an aspect of any major decision, what parameters will be in place to be sure that this subjectivity does not result in additional measures being imposed as the rule, as opposed to the exception? And whom, in particular, will have discretionary authority over whether or not additional requirements are necessary?

I could go on, but I won’t as there is still much discussion that needs to take place to fully understand the ramifications, pros, cons, etc. of this proposal. We’ll stay on it here at NJCUL and will more formally communicate relative to this issue in the coming weeks.

While I’m on the topic, you may have read in Tuesday’s Daily Exchange that I was recently appointed to the American Association of Credit Union Leagues’ (AACUL) Regulatory Advocacy/Compliance Advisory Committee. I am very pleased to be selected for this particular committee, noting that regulatory burden is a chief concern of nearly, if not all credit unions. I am looking forward to being the voice of New Jersey credit unions in this area and hope to positively impact the regulatory and compliance process through my involvement on this committee.

Engaging Young Professionals 

Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, January 21, 2014 8:43:00 AM

Age is both very specific and also relative. Depending on the situation, we may each cast ourselves as young or, um…otherwise. This goes for business careers as well.

What is a young professional? Is that label defined by the cutoff for the 40 Under 40 lists or the 30 Under 30 lists? The young professional groups we see and hear of today are said to have evolved from the Yuppies of the past (according to Wikipedia). For reference, Yuppies were defined as being in their 20’s or 30’s.

Depending on your path of entry into the credit union world, you may be a current young professional or, as the calendar has illustrated in my case, a former young professional. Either way, there is a point of reference for each of us and it is important that we recognize that in our industry.

It’s no secret that senior management in credit unions has matured along with the movement. Statistics will tell you that a large number of credit union CEOs are preparing for retirement in the next few years. While some of those positions may be filled by outside talent, many of the next CEOs will come from within. And hence, the position that person leaves will be filled, and so on and so forth.

As a leader, what steps are you taking to be sure that those in your organization are prepared to step up when the opportunity arises? As a young professional (YP), what are you doing to set yourself apart as a rising star? Together, are we effectively building our credit union community with top tier talent that understand and believe in the credit union difference?

You may have read in yesterday’s Daily Exchange that Aspire FCU's Melissa Nesi has been selected as N.J.'s representative for the “Crash” CUNA's GAC program, supported by Filene Research Institute and the Cooperative Trust. (In this case the magic YP age cutoff was 30.) As a participant, Melissa will attend exclusive events, network with the N.J. delegation as well as other YPs from throughout the country and have fabulous exposure to the largest credit union event of the year. She is also going to write about her “Crash” experience in her own words from the perspective of a young credit union professional. We will share her thoughts and photos in a feature story following the GAC.

This is a tremendous opportunity for Melissa, but it is also a quite limited opportunity in that N.J. can only have a single “Crasher.” That said, there are other ways to be involved.

The recent launch of NJCUL’s Creative You presents a YP development opportunity. While there are no age or experience designations for Creative You, the program has certainly engaged some of N.J.’s ambitious YPs in this, its inaugural year. Those participating will have the opportunity to hone their planning skills, delve into innovation processes, and develop and showcase their presentation talents.

Chapters offer an opportunity for YPs and non-CEO’s to be involved on a more local level. They also offer the possibility to gain experience through serving in leadership positions. I have seen chapters and regional groups thrive throughout the country through the engagement of YPs.

This past November, the North-Central Chapter held a meeting in Clark, N.J. where executives, vendors, and YPs were invited to network while enjoying an open bar and buffet. This unique and very informal event was specifically designed to engage YPs. Allowing for opportunities for peer-to-peer connectivity results in sharing of best practices and ideas, and growth of the “community” environment that has always been a tenet of a strong credit union presence.

We also strive to facilitate these peer-to-peer connections through the NJCUL roundtables. While the roundtables are not age specific, there are opportunities for professionals to make connections based on their areas of expertise. In some cases this may result in a YP connection or, perhaps, even a mentoring-type environment where a more senior leader is able to impart valuable knowledge from experience that would assist someone junior.

As I reviewed our educational offerings for 2014, I also had this in mind. You will find the same core operational subject matter throughout our education calendar as in past years, but we have also expanded to include more strategic and developmental topics. Most specifically, keep an eye out for Webinars related to tools for analyzing and assisting emerging leaders as well as some on delving into problem solving techniques and individual skills development.

If you are a “former” like me, how are you engaging your YPs in an effort to develop the next leaders of our movement? If you consider yourself a current YP, step up, be a credit union advocate, express your ideas, and ask the questions on your mind. The evolution of the credit union industry is ongoing, and together, through development and planning, we will ensure there are future leaders who are instilled with the values that make credit unions unique and essential and the skills that foster success. 

2014: A Look Ahead 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, January 02, 2014 10:19:00 AM

Happy New Year! 2013 was certainly an interesting year for me personally and for the New Jersey Credit Union League as well. Actually, for me, I’d say “exciting” would be a more appropriate adjective.

The tail end of ’13 was hectic, to be sure. We prepared and finalized our 2014 budget and strategic initiatives, got the cuGreenLoans pilot off the ground, celebrated the holidays, and continued to spend a significant amount of time with our credit unions throughout the state. That said, I’m not one for excuses, so I’ll simply acknowledge the fact that I did not post to this blog in December.

As for 2014 and those strategic initiatives…this is where I sense the adjective “exciting” applies for all of us here at NJCUL. In August, we started to formally put the wheels in motion to identify what we can and should be doing differently, through all-staff strategic dialogue sessions. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing what we have heard from you, the credit union professionals of New Jersey, relative to our offerings. The NJCUL Board of Directors held a strategic planning session in October, which provided focus as we honed our strategy relative to our vision. Internally, we have processed our ideas in several iterations and have continued the dialogue on an ongoing basis.

Some of our initiatives will see implementation in 2014, while others are being developed to set the stage for what will come in 2015 and beyond. While not putting the cart before the horse with specifics, it is safe to say that we are working on some significant additions to the Banking You Can Trust campaign, designed to drive specific value for affiliated credit unions in terms of promotion and member acquisition. Outreach efforts will be increased in an effort to gather greater insight into the issues most important to you and processes will be implemented to ensure those issues become the focal points that drive NJ EDGE, PLAN, and READ. We will review our business partner platform to identify ways in which we can drive additional value for our affiliates. Metrics are being developed to quantify your involvement and engagement in League-driven opportunities, so that we may more formally recognize your contributions to the credit union community as a whole. I could go on, but the point here is to provide the sketch, not paint the picture.

As we look ahead to 2014, I see opportunity. As many of us have done in recent weeks, literally, the League has figuratively filled its plate full. But we have done so thoughtfully and with purpose, so we are able to accomplish the goals we have set forth. When the annual calendar turns again in just under 12 months, I hope you will look back at the year that was, relative to what we accomplished and positioned at the League and find amongst the adjectives that come to mind…“exciting.”

To your success in 2014!

Thankful 

Posted by Greg Michlig Wednesday, November 27, 2013 11:10:00 AM

Traditionally, this is the time of year when many people pause to take inventory of those things for which they are grateful. On this, the eve of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share a few of those items on my list.

Personally, I am thankful to be starting a new chapter in my life with all of you, here in New Jersey. My entire professional career has centered on credit unions and I am very pleased to continue in this industry alongside all of you. The opportunity to work in a cooperative movement where the common goal is to help people achieve financial well-being and, through associated efforts, live better lives, is tremendously gratifying.

In an environment where time is limited and people are increasingly value-conscious, we at the New Jersey Credit Union League are specifically thankful for our affiliated credit unions. Together, through shared resources, we are able to project a strong, unified voice in consumer, political, and regulatory advocacy. It is the recognition that we are better together that exemplifies the credit union difference and allows us to separate credit unions’ brand from that of our for-profit competitors.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the League staff in this post. It is only through their continually thoughtful and tireless efforts that this organization is able to serve you through a multifaceted approach each and every day. I am thankful for their professionalism and resourcefulness, and personally, for welcoming me and my family as we have navigated these first six months together.

And, of course, I am thankful for my family and friends. Making a move of the magnitude my wife, three children, and I have made this past year is significant. Without all of their support, it would have been extremely difficult.

Finally, the list of those things for which I am grateful also includes, but is not limited to: ice cream, golf, being introduced to a whole new world of pizza pie, ESPN, music (all kinds), the Green Bay Packers, nights out with my wife, and hugs and kisses from my kids.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. 

How Are You Failing Forward?  

Posted by Greg Michlig Monday, November 11, 2013 11:32:00 AM

Yes, that’s right… failing… are you doing a good job of it? Have you heard of the concept?

It’s a phrase that stuck with me many years ago. I performed a quick online search to see how prevalent this topic is and found that it must have caught the attention of many others as well. There are books, blogs, columns, and full Web sites dedicated to failing forward. I clicked on the top result: www.failforward.com. The following statement is on the homepage: “Failing Forward looks different for different kinds of organizations.” Simple, but accurate.

You don’t really define how to fail, but you know it when it happens, right? It’s taking the concept of “let’s throw these ideas on the wall and see what sticks” to another level. It’s “let’s implement these ideas that are a bit edgy but could be game changing and see what sticks.” Some are simply bound to fail…and that’s okay. It’s what you learn by being innovative that will produce the successes that follow the set-backs.

This topic has come up frequently in my conversations with credit union leaders throughout New Jersey. If your credit union (and the League for that matter) is not looking for ways to move forward, it won’t. And, as the statement says, this will look different for each organization. Risk tolerance levels vary by organization and they should. This is not to say everything is a go-for-broke strategy…but it’s good to set stretch goals and test the limits of your comfort zone.

Now, it should also be understood that the “forward” piece of this strategy significantly outweighs the allotment for “fail.” There needs to be a measured approach to everything and if the results of your efforts show significantly more “fail” than “forward,” adjustments need to be made.

While discussing how this concept has played into the successes of one small-asset credit union I met with, I made a connection to another statement that has stuck with me for many years. It’s something my dad told me when I played high school basketball: “If you’re not getting a couple fouls, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Now, this went against what coaches had been preaching…move your feet, don’t reach, play the angles, DON’T FOUL! But it also made sense to me and has likely played a role in my approach to many things today. I certainly didn’t want to foul out of games and knew that if I was out there hacking everyone, the coach would pull me. But I also became more aggressive and less afraid of picking up a foul (or three).

I remember my final game of high school basketball like it was yesterday. Our team had been ranked as high as #2 in the state within our division and we were in the regional finals. For much of the night I guarded the other team’s top scorer. We had a good team defense and I helped to hold him in check, relative to his usual performances. We went to overtime…and lost. I fouled out at the very beginning of overtime (on what even the radio announcer said was a bad call, by the way).

To use the cliché, I left everything on the floor. Our team was terribly disappointed by what we deemed a failure, but it was also a learning experience. We moved forward and knew that we were stronger because of all the hard work we had put in as a team. We learned that in the grand scheme of things, this would hurt for a while and then fade mostly to the back of our minds. I believe it was a factor in making us more determined in all of our endeavors, leading that group to many successful careers in business.

When you think of it, only one team gets to hoist the championship trophy at the end of each season. Knowing this, athletes choose to “get in the game” despite the likelihood that their last game will be a loss. But that does not deter them from doing whatever they can to make that last game a win because they know they will be better for it in the long run.

Are you in the game or on the sidelines? Do you have the tolerance to fail forward…even a little? Give it some thought. If we all fail forward a little, I believe that as a movement, we can move forward a lot. 

We’re 26th! 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, October 31, 2013 9:28:00 AM

Each month I receive a listing of the Don’t Tax My Credit Union advocacy efforts by each state. League Director of Government Affairs, Chris Abeel, and I discuss these numbers and consider the next steps as we continue to explore ways to engage the credit union community in the campaign.

The numbers are good. New Jersey’s credit union advocates have stepped up and produced significant numbers of contacts to our congressional delegation. In fact, we are well on our way to logging more lawmaker contacts than on any other issue in recent memory. The tally of grassroots campaign contacts has or will soon exceed those in support of H.R.1151, MBL reform, and municipal deposits.

When I look at the comparative numbers to other states, however, I am concerned. New Jersey is 26th in total lawmaker contacts logged through mutual League and CUNA reporting. These would be in the form of e-mails through the CUNA Grassroots Action Center, postcards (as distributed through the League), toll-free calls, and Twitter messages directly to members of Congress. There are certainly contacts that take place outside these measures and perhaps those would move us up a few slots, but the overall positioning on the page compels me to bring this to your attention.

There is another correlation here and to some extent, it justifies where we stand. New Jersey sits at 28th in terms of number of members. So, theoretically, we are mobilizing in the Don’t Tax My Credit Union fight to a level relative or perhaps even slightly better than other states in those terms.

Herein lies the concern: New Jersey is the 11th most populace state and has the 9th most credit unions of any state. To me, this says there is tremendous opportunity to engage consumers and band together for a louder voice both here and in Washington. Our consumer advocacy, in many terms, goes hand-in-hand with our political advocacy. The Don’t Tax My Credit Union initiative presents an opportunity to share the message of why credit unions are different and positioned to be the best financial partner to consumers.

In my last blog post, I touched on the need to take it upon ourselves to proudly share our credit union message whenever the opportunity presents itself. This includes making sure staff and board members are equipped to share the “elevator pitch” of why credit unions, as not-for-profit, cooperative financial institutions, are a unique and present value in addition to low rates and fewer fees. It also means they should be aware of the tools available to them for political advocacy.

It sounds simplistic, but in the highly operational and compliance intensive environment that is the reality of day-to-day credit union life, taking time to discuss the structural difference and social good of our efforts may take a back seat to “getting things done.” If you are already doing this, fantastic. If you are not, I encourage you to take the time to engage your personnel in this conversation. If our boards and internal teams are passionate about the credit union difference, they can ignite the sort of grassroots effort that will move us all forward.

Here at the League, we will continue to look for additional opportunities to boost credit unions’ voice. In addition to efforts to defend credit unions’ tax exemption, we continue to see significant growth in awareness through one of those opportunities—the Banking You Can Trust campaign.

From all reports and metrics available, word of mouth advertising is still the best way to communicate a message. This includes social media and is the basis of viral campaigns. How incredible could it be if a few more people from each credit union staff or board followed @bankingyoutrust on Twitter or shared the www.bankingyoucantrust.com Web site on Facebook and from there had even one friend do the same? I believe those rankings in the 20’s would trend upwards. The pace at which that happens is truly up to each and every one of us.

Unite for Good! 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, October 17, 2013 9:23:00 AM

If you are reading this blog, I’m sure you know that today, October 17, 2013, is International Credit Union Day. It is a day set aside to commemorate the credit union movement’s impact on the financial well-being of its members. It is also a day to reflect on the rich history of the movement and the growth we have achieved by staying true to our mission of “People Helping People.”

This year we join with over 50,000 credit unions representing more than 196 million members, in over 100 countries, under the “Unite for Good” theme. This theme is indicative of the nature of credit unions, where we rally behind our shared values as a movement through collaboration and aggregate strength.

New Jerseyans have been hit hard by the economic climate and the realities of Superstorm Sandy. Along the way, credit unions have been integral in the path to recovery through their community involvement, financial education initiatives, and their traditional focus on members’ needs as not-for-profit financial cooperatives. Many of the programs credit unions have enacted to improve the financial well-being of their members have been developed through shared knowledge and cooperative endeavors that are only possible through a collaborative approach that is truly unique in the financial services industry.

As a movement, we need to take it upon ourselves to proudly share our credit union message. Not just today, but whenever the opportunity presents itself. I encourage you to take the time to look back at the history of our movement, understand where we’ve been and why we continue to be the best financial partner for all consumers. Then, individually, take the initiative to more boldly spread the word of the positive impact we make for our members each day.

I also encourage you to continue to look for new ways to engage in the collaborative process. At the New Jersey Credit Union League we have been working towards this very goal. A key element of our mission is to “create a collaborative environment that adds value through shared services, consumer awareness, and innovative market development.” One new way in which we are doing this is through the recently announced Creative You program.

Creative You is designed to give anyone, from credit union leaders to frontline staff, a forum to share their ideas on how credit unions can continue to innovate and evolve to best meet the financial needs of their members and ensure a robust movement here in New Jersey. Whether presenting concepts relative to the credit union, statewide, or universal level, Creative You affords the opportunity for forward-thinking, ambitious credit union personnel to take the stage and showcase their ingenuity.

This program also provides a venue to foster collaboration between credit unions. While teams may be comprised of individuals from a single credit union, Creative You is also open to individuals wishing to work with professionals from other credit unions in an effort to tackle important issues facing the movement. NJCUL will even work with individuals to coordinate groups upon request.

Whether through Creative You, the Executive Leadership Series, NJ PLAN, or any of the other collaborative initiatives presented by the League, your involvement is the key to our collective success. We are here to lead and we are also here to listen. Participate and encourage others at your credit union to do the same.

So, let’s take a moment to celebrate our history and successes today, more actively share our message going forward, and continue to discover new and exciting ways to “Unite for Good.”

Happy International Credit Union Day!

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