The Collaborative Connection

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!

A Word of Thanks 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, October 04, 2013 9:31:00 AM

On the heels of the NJCUL’s 79th Annual Meeting and Convention, there is no doubt that there are many people who deserve recognition for their efforts. The question is, where to start?

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “it takes a village” used in instances like this. If that’s the case, then the village planner for this event would be none other than Yvette Segarra, Manager of Special Events. She’d probably be the sheriff as well! Events like these are a tremendous undertaking and Yvette takes great pride in putting together a program, from start to finish and exhibit hall to annual meeting that does not disappoint. Based on the comments I heard and have received, it was mission accomplished this year in Atlantic City.

The rest of the village is extensive and diverse. It includes the NJCUL Board of Directors, the full staff, exhibitors, hotel staff, speakers, entertainers and, of course the credit union personnel and volunteers who take the time to attend.

Having attended countless credit union conferences and meetings of all sizes over the years and, as a staff member involved in the management of many such conferences, I know what it takes to execute a successful event. Your NJCUL staff was most certainly up to the task.

From processing your registrations to preparing your registration envelopes pre-conference, to greeting you at the registration desk; From evaluating and signing speakers to assisting them with their on-site set up and making sure the rooms were prepared; Whether arriving a day or two early to be sure the hotel and AV was ready or arriving before you in the mornings to make sure everything was in order for the day… there are many things going on behind the scenes that you have no reason to be aware of… I could go on and on. It was “all-hands-on-deck” and throughout the convention I was continually fielding comments assuring me that all hands were performing to an exemplary level.

To be honest, it didn’t surprise me. This staff is comprised of people who work very hard and have your best interests in mind at every turn. They want you to walk away with exceptional value through content and a smile from the fun you had along the way.

I’m sure it sounds like I’m bragging and, of course I have a biased view. If not for the high praise I heard on-site and through follow-up emails, perhaps my tone would be slightly more muted. Either way, it would not have diminished my view of the mission-centric approach of the team here at the League.

I was also told that the conference attendees were as engaged as ever. The exhibit hall was busy (along with the dance floor). The general session room was packed and the breakout sessions were highly attended. Participation in the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation’s silent auction was up. With the sun shining outside and the slot machines ringing below, these indicators say a lot about the dedication of the attending credit union representatives and their commitment to their members.   

Thank you to the board of directors for their ongoing support and participation throughout the Annual Meeting and Convention. And thank you to all attendees, exhibitors, sponsors and partners who helped make the 2013 NJCUL Annual Meeting and Convention a huge success!

And Then There Were Three 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, September 13, 2013 10:29:00 AM

There are plenty of quotes by well-known leaders regarding their commitment to lifelong learning. According to Henry Ford, it keeps you young. Einstein asserted that intellectual growth should cease only at death. From Thomas Jefferson to Julia Child, there are many who have attributed the success of their careers to ongoing education.

There are tremendous educational opportunities throughout the movement. Many of those opportunities can be found here in New Jersey, through the League’s EDGE and DNA programs. We’d certainly love to see max participation at our educational offerings, but acknowledge that the day-to-day responsibilities of credit union operations are significant. And, for board members, your time is also at a premium.

As someone who believes strongly in ongoing education, however, I still marvel that more people don’t participate in the very reasonably priced and sometimes even FREE educational and networking events that are offered. To be honest, some of your peers have told me they feel the same.

It’s also notable in other ways. Earlier this week I earned the designation of Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) through the National Credit Union Foundation’s (NCUF) DE training. In doing so, I became the third person from the state of New Jersey to earn the designation, joining Jim Miller, President/CEO, Liberty Savings FCU, and Pete Manfredo, a credit union (and NJCUL) veteran, currently serving as a Director at NJ Gateway CU.

There are over 1,000 DE’s. My quick calculations when reviewing a list of those with the designation shows that four out of every five states have more DE’s than N.J. I’ve noticed similar results when looking at other participant lists from national programs and contests as well, and I wonder why?

I believe there is much to gain from both in-state and national events. There is value in credit union-focused as well as out-of-industry education. Operational knowledge is imperative, but training in soft skills and having a firm understanding of historical context and the driving organizational and industry principles can provide sometimes forgotten context.

This is where the NCUF’s DE training comes in. While there is certainly meat to the program, brought through case studies and projects related to real-world issues facing the credit unions, there is also a robust focus on the philosophy and guiding co-operative principals of the movement. While many of the historical elements of the training were not new to me, the in-depth discussion of how the events of the past are applicable and relevant to current events was stimulating.

Digging into the stories of Edward Filene, Roy Bergengren and Louise Herring, along with more recent first-person accounts of significant events from Larry Blanchard, WOCCU’s David Richardson, and program director Lois Kitch, provided stirring conversation amongst the group comprised of young professionals and industry vets alike. Hearing of how many of these stories relate to the emerging cooperative financial services movement in South Africa from Nomadelo Sauli, a woman leading the charge there, and who happened to be in my working group for the 6-day program, was extremely insightful and motivational.

Following this experience, I am firmly entrenched in the notion that continuing, life-long education is not only individually valuable, but it can also be inspirational. I perceive the opportunities we offer here at NJCUL to be reasonably convenient and, from what I have seen in the event surveys, strong from a content side. In addition, participation in programs such as the DE training can bring new perspectives to drive innovation or perhaps just rejuvenate a weary soul.

I encourage you to provide us with your thoughts on how NJCUL can compel you to take advantage of our educational offerings to a greater extent than today. And I also hope that we can raise our representation outside the state, for it is through those new experiences that we can bring new ideas and collaborative concepts from not only throughout the country, but the world. In the end, individuals will grow and the credit union movement in New Jersey will benefit.

Lending a Hand 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, August 30, 2013 10:11:00 AM

It’s no secret that increased lending activity is a primary goal for the majority of credit unions. A strong loan portfolio equates to healthy performance relative to many credit unions’ key ratios. It’s also no secret that loan growth is lagging here in New Jersey, as opposed to most other states. Statistics have pointed this out for an extended period of time. And now, with the NCUA’s Quarterly U.S. Map Reviews presenting visual representations of this over the past two years, it stands clear that there is work to be done.

This has been a regular topic of conversation from the time I first met with the NJCUL Board of Directors to as recently as two days ago when I was visiting with a credit union CEO. As we discussed, I see this not as plight, but as opportunity. Here at the League, we are continually looking for ways to assist you in getting the message out to the many who still view credit unions as savings institutions and not lenders of choice.

Later this morning we will be meeting with some of the key players involved in the green energy loan initiative. This has been a priority since my first day on the job here in New Jersey and has also been a monumental task. The model here in New Jersey is different than those in other states where such loans are offered, meaning there were and still are many variables to address. We have cleared many of the hurdles that stagnated the project and, I am pleased to say, we are moving towards the pilot and implementation phases of this initiative. As a matter of fact, included in the key players at today’s meeting will be representatives from seven potential pilot credit unions. This opportunity won’t be for all credit unions, but it will provide a new lending channel for those where there is a fit.

The Banking You Can Trust campaign is also heavily tied into lending. By building overall awareness through the campaign, we are inherently promoting the value of credit unions as a trusted source for financial services. In most spots, there is specific reference to consumer lending.

Business lending is also a topic in select Banking You Can Trust ads. As we read about MBL growth throughout the credit union movement, we need to be sure we are taking steps to ensure that same growth surfaces here in New Jersey. I have engaged a variety of credit union CEOs from throughout the state and from a wide span of asset sizes to discuss how NJCUL can provide resources and expertise to help drive member business lending. As we evaluate the options and continue this dialogue, I invite you to contact me (gmichlig@njcul.org) with any thoughts you have on this topic.

And, of course, one cannot discuss MBL without acknowledging the need for MBL reform. We continue to present our case to legislators that increasing the 12.25% cap to the proposed 27.5% is essential to credit unions’ ability to provide lending to businesses in need. Credit unions have proven they are there for small businesses, while commercial bank lending has decreased by 10% over the past five years.

On a final note, just a quick reminder that the New Jersey Credit Union League's 79th Annual Meeting and Convention is just around the corner: September 29, 2013 to October 1, at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, N.J. Many of you are set to go, but if you haven’t already done so, please register today. I am looking forward to seeing you all there!

It’s All Semantics 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, August 23, 2013 10:52:00 AM

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked about the adjustment from living in the Midwest to living in New Jersey. And as many of you have heard me respond, it hasn’t been that different. Of course there are words my family and I say that are different here than in Wisconsin, but that has not caused us any significant trouble. (Apparently lollypop is the appropriate word in Jersey, not sucker).

In working through a transition in a business, as we are doing here at the New Jersey Credit Union League, it is important to be sure that the semantics of the discussions don’t impede the task at hand…whatever that may be at the time. Of course, being that I am the key element in the transition here, I have been spending a good deal of time with the staff to be sure we are on the same page.

Why am I sharing this? Because it is a universal issue, whether in one-on-one relationships, in the office, with business partners, or any other communication you may have. And, because I received an email today from a long-time associate who sent me this video on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=31JjddNinQk. This is important, because it is the exact same video I shared with the League staff during one of our recent strategic dialogue sessions. As I said at the time, I may think that what I am saying is clear, but I also understand that even the simplest of messages can be misconstrued.

You can rest assured I am confident that all of us here at NJCUL are very much on the same page. I believe our dialogue sessions have been very valuable and staff has indicated they feel same.

As I continue with these posts and other communications, I encourage you to reach out to me if my message is not clear. Going forward, these posts will become much less about me and more about the new initiatives we are working on. I anticipate this will generate more questions and I hope you will feel comfortable sending me a message or giving me a call to discuss.

Speaking of those new initiatives, we have spent a good amount of time working on one that we plan to introduce very soon and launch at the NJCUL Annual Meeting and Convention. We’re working collaboratively to complete the initial program design, which will be centered on innovation. Along with this program we have been putting a great deal of time into several other initiatives addressing such issues as green energy loans, member business lending, and healthcare reform.

Finally, as this is posted, I am in Washington, DC attending the Swearing-In Ceremony for new NCUA Director Richard Metsger. I look forward to meeting him and broadening the lines of communication with NCUA, a good continuation of our efforts to identify and avoid any potential semantic barriers between the agency and our credit unions.

Making Strides with Reach 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, August 09, 2013 12:26:00 PM

Three months into my role here as League president and I am now seeing many paths emerge for the organization, our member credit unions, myself and staff to walk down.

As a team, League staff and I have begun working on new and exciting opportunities for New Jersey credit unions. Some of those ideas center around the cooperative advertising campaign, “Banking You Can Trust” and ways we can improve not only its reach of consumers, but help credit unions generate more worthwhile leads from our advertising.

We have been beefing up our social media efforts on the consumer advocacy front. Our utilization of social media in the past couple of months has earned us a tremendous amount of new followers of our Twitter handle @BankingYouTrust.

Generating interest through social media has also had a tremendous impact on our consumer advocacy Web site www.bankingyoucantrust.com. The site has garnered more unique visitors in the past month than any other, since its launch last year.

As a team we plan to work on ways to attract more consumers to our social media channels and not just industry insiders, politicians and other credit unions. Starting a conversation with New Jersey consumers about financial services, education and the benefits of using a credit union will be a focus in the coming months and year.

Your participation plays a vital role in the success of those efforts. As we continue efforts to expand the “Banking You Can Trust” audience, promote the Web site and Twitter handle to your members and, if you aren’t already, consider participating in our shared advertising campaign.

As I mentioned to the attendees at the NJ DNA meeting in Bloomfield last evening, the “Banking You Can Trust” and “Don’t Tax My Credit Union” messages are synergistic. While “Don’t Tax My Credit Union” is essential to our continuing efforts to defend credit unions’ tax status, it is also a tremendous opportunity to talk about the value proposition of credit unions.

Last Friday while I was in Boston at the AACUL meeting, League staff were on the Asbury Park boardwalk speaking directly with consumers about the benefits of credit unions (under the “Banking You can Trust” banner) and for those who were credit union members (and they tell me there were quite a few) they discussed the Don’t Tax My Credit Union initiative. Many of them even filled out postcards as part of the League’s postcard campaign. The League’s grassroots postcard campaign is similar to campaigns done in previous years. We ask that any interested credit union staffer, volunteer or member complete postcards in support of the Don’t Tax My Credit Union message. Postcards can be obtained through the League’s Director of Government Affairs Chris Abeel. If you are interested in participating in this effort, please contact him at cabeel@njcul.org or 609-448-2426 ext. 127.

Stay tuned for more in the area of reach with our consumer advocacy efforts.

Impressions of the 'System' 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, August 02, 2013 8:00:00 AM

This, the second installment of The Collaborative Connection, comes to you from a hotel desk in Boston. It is Thursday evening and I have just spent a full day with fellow League presidents and executives, CUNA board members, executives and staff, and select guests. My intent was to spend time thoroughly delving into the impressions I have had of the credit union system in place through the CUNA/League structure over the past few months. However, what has taken place today, while well in line with the impressions I had prior to my arrival in Boston, will require brevity in this week's post.

We went long today... very long. And the day is not over. As with all such events, there are dinner reservations and ongoing conversations to take place throughout the evening.

The dialogue in the League presidents' room today was in-depth, compelling, collaborative and, perhaps most important to you, centered around the success and issues facing credit unions and the movement. As the conversations (and debates) rolled on, not a soul made note of the fact we were continually passing the timed benchmarks on the agenda. A thorough discussion of the issues was paramount, the time of day was secondary.

Whether at the CUNA America's Credit Union Conference last month, through the discussions today or at any point in-between, my experience within the system has been that the leaders of this movement are fundamentally driven by addressing the challenges of and driving opportunities for your credit unions at every turn. Perhaps this comes across as self-serving, but this is exactly the type of environment I had hoped to find and is very much in line with my philosophical approach. At its very core, what I have seen is that, it's not about CUNA or the Leagues, but it is about the credit unions and ultimately the members.

You may say, that's how it should be. And I agree. However one cannot dismiss the questions and comments that arise regarding the value of affiliation or the cynicism that sometimes creeps into conversations. I am certain that my time to address these issues as one with a fresh set of eyes will not last long. So while I can, I want to tell you that your concerns are heard, your pain is felt, your successes are celebrated and your affiliation is highly valued, to an extent that is much more deeply emotional and authentic than you may imagine. I have been impressed and I am proud to be a part of this system.

And with that... I am late for the next scheduled event and most certainly do not want to miss an opportunity to discuss additional ways to positively impact credit unions with the fine folks from the Filene Research Institute, who have graciously invited me to dinner.

The Ten Week Whirlwind 

Posted by Greg Michlig Friday, July 26, 2013 9:05:00 AM

Today I complete 10 weeks on the job here at NJCUL along with 10 weeks in New Jersey. As of this week, I am also officially a resident of The Garden State, having settled near Turnpike Exit 8 (which I believe is the proper geographic identifier here in New Jersey). It has been a whirlwind, but I’ve enjoyed the ride here in the early going. I’d like to update you on what these first weeks have entailed with this, the first post of my new blog “The Collaborative Connection.” I encourage you to use the comment section of this blog to share your thoughts and ideas on particular credit union issues or on new League initiatives you would like to see.

I’ve met many of you during these first couple of months, through chapter meetings, educational sessions at the League office and remotely (I sat in on a video roundtable at the Members 1st of New Jersey FCU, Vineland location), credit union visits, charitable events and, of course, various board meetings. I participated in the Financial Reality Fair hosted by Entertainment Industries FCU in partnership with the New Jersey Credit Union Foundation at the Academy of Finance in Elizabeth, joined members of the Credit Union Advisory Council as they met with government officials in Trenton, attended a couple of political events and hosted a planning session for the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education in the League training center.

From June 29 – July 3, I attended CUNA’s America’s Credit Union Conference in Manhattan. During the event I had the pleasure of spending time with CUNA CEO Bill Cheney, along with other members of the CUNA and CUNA Strategic Services executive and management teams. The event also afforded opportunities to network with fellow League presidents, executives from the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, trade publications, business partners and other industry suppliers, as well as the New Jersey credit union leaders in attendance.

Internally, the League staff and I have been addressing key initiatives such as the energy loan program, topics and speakers for future education, including the great line-up we are assembling for the 2014 Credit Union Reality Check conference and, of course, working alongside you, CUNA and the rest of the credit union movement to defend credit unions’ tax status. We have had conversations with media outlets to continue to build the Banking You Can Trust brand and are excited about some of the opportunities we have identified to increase consumer awareness of credit unions and the value they bring to the marketplace.

I am also working with subject matter experts and business partners with regards to issues of importance, such as healthcare reform, back-office efficiencies in human resources and member business lending, while also monitoring other emerging trends and areas of need. The NJCUL Shared Compliance Program continues to grow and, as such, our team of specialists will also grow to match the demand. I see this program as a model as we work to assist those credit unions looking for back-office efficiencies and expertise.

Looking forward, I see opportunities to also provide new programing in the areas of innovation and career growth. I have laid some of the groundwork with the team here at the League in terms of creating an increasingly inclusive environment for the exchange of ideas through both our existing initiatives and those yet to be identified. I hope to present one of these new programs to you at the 79th Annual Meeting & Convention at the end of September. Which, by the way, if you haven’t yet registered, you can do so at www.njcuconvention.com.

It certainly has been a busy 10 weeks with all of this, along with moving a family of five from Wisconsin. But it has also been an encouraging start to my time with you here in New Jersey.
 

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