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.