The Collaborative Connection

#FedSeat4CUs 

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: www.federalreserve.gov/faqs/about_12591.htm.

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 gmichlig@njcul.org. 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.

One Year In 

Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, May 20, 2014 8:58:00 AM

Today marks one year on the job here in New Jersey. To answer a question that I’m asked often…yes it seems like a year. Although some days it seems like I’ve been here much longer, and others not so much. That’s good, in my mind. It means that I feel comfortable here and know that we are getting things done, but it also means that I understand that I must continue to discover the distinguishing characteristics of New Jersey and the credit union community we have here.

I am excited as I reach this milestone. We have implemented some new approaches and programs. We have increased our dialogue with you, the affiliates, to identify areas where we can refine and build our processes and deliverables to best suit your diverse needs. There are also a number of initiatives in the hopper that I believe you will find valuable. There is work to be done and in that work is great opportunity.

But today, I want to pause to say “thank you.”

Thank you to the fantastic staff here at the New Jersey Credit Union League. This is a high-caliber group of diligent, service-oriented professionals who put your needs first. They are also caring, genuine individuals who have embraced the changes that came along with me. We are a strong team and we continue to grow together.

Thank you to the NJCUL Board of Directors of 2013 & 2014. I am humbled and driven by the confidence you put in me a little over one year ago. I am grateful for the guidance you have given as I have acclimated to New Jersey. As much, I appreciate your straightforward approach, keeping the focus on getting things done for the credit unions of New Jersey.

Thank you to you, the credit unions of New Jersey. You have welcomed me to your state and your community in a way that makes me feel at home. I have had the opportunity to meet many of you over this first year and am thankful for the relationships that have formed and continue to grow throughout the state.

Finally, thank you to my wonderful wife, Stacy, and our children, Bailey, Taliya and Landon. We packed up our lives and moved from the Midwest, first setting foot in New Jersey for this new chapter 366 days ago. I cannot begin to explain what that means to me, but I know that “thank you” is only the tip of the iceberg.

It’s been a great year and I look forward to many more.

Thank you.

Free Stuff! 

Posted by Greg Michlig Thursday, May 15, 2014 10:37:00 AM

Sometimes I eat an apple without washing it. I don’t have an umbrella readily accessible. I’ve seen the fuel range indicator drop to dashes. I wear my Milwaukee Brewers T-shirt in New Jersey. That’s right…I live on the edge. And that’s why I’m going to address the age-old question; what do I get for my dues?

This is not an all-inclusive list, as I don’t think it’s possible to produce one. Many of the items are lumped into categorical groups, otherwise there would be too much redundancy with subsets and sister offerings across the various disciplines we attend to.

Now, there are levels to the “what’s included” question as well. In some cases, affiliates have access to member-only services that may have a cost attached, such as education sessions, credit union-specific options through the Banking You Can Trust campaign, marketing resources, shared compliance staffing, or programs like the Reality and Retirement Fairs offered in partnership with New Jersey Credit Union Foundation.   

The next level could be those items that are included in dues that are core to league value, but may not be as tangible as a specific product. For instance, advocacy. Consumer, legislative, and regulatory advocacy are key tenants of what we provide. These, along with political action initiatives, can be measured to some extent, but with many wins coming through staunch defense against rising regulatory burden and attacks from for-profit financial institutions, the understood value is in our united voice as the New Jersey Credit Union Community.

Add to that “included” level other resources and offerings such as the Creative You program, Hike-the-Hill coordination, member-only newsletters and communications, participation in NJ DNA, NJ PLAN, NJ READ and NJCUL Youth Involvement Board meetings and activities, small credit union tools and mentoring programs, a centralized source for sharing of best practices and access to the gamut of offerings provided by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). I urge you to take advantage these offerings and opportunities.

Next, in the category of Free Stuff… the tangible products that are being provided at no additional cost through your affiliation with NJCUL. These are the things that you should be taking advantage of or at least taking the time to consider: 

  • Affiliate-only listings on the Banking You Can Trust and aSmarterChoice Web sites (automatic)
  • CU Policy Pro (regulatory compliance)
  • Job, resume, and classified postings
  • League InfoSight (regulatory compliance)
  • Member Benefits Report (specific to your credit union)
  • National Federation of Community Development CUs foreclosure avoidance toolkit
  • New Jersey and national quarterly statistical reports and analysis
  • NJCUL Compliance Help Line
  • RateWatch (interest rate comparison tool)
  • Salary data and position descriptions (in partnership with Callahan & Associates)
  • Select education sessions

These are meat and potatoes, as one person here said to me. There are other items, of course. I hope some come to mind as you read this.

So why go out on the edge and broach this subject here…now? Because in my conversations with credit union leaders throughout New Jersey, I continually find that there is a lack of awareness when it comes to many of these benefits of affiliation. While we promote these items in the Daily Exchange, in-person through credit union visits and networking activities, and through direct contact with stakeholders at credit unions, things fall through the cracks.

And this is understandable. Considering the onslaught of day-to-day tasks we all manage, at times we forget that people don’t know everything in the same way that we do. Specific to the league, we assume that people know we are here for them, know what we do, and because we send a daily newsletter, that people read every word. Well, not every word, but at least skim for the good stuff! Of course, that’s not the case and it’s on us to do a better job of ensuring the message is being delivered.

League Director of Marketing and Communications, Candice Nigro, is in the process of preparing a plan to help cut through some of the noise that we know exists within the broad array of communications you receive on a daily basis. As we do, I hope you’ll be responsive to our requests for information and, in turn, we’ll continue to do whatever we can to be sure the free stuff doesn’t fall through the cracks. 

Raising the Bar on Partnerships 

Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:16:00 AM

As I was reviewing the most recent PSG Newsletter, I reflected on the many conversations I’ve had with both credit union leaders and executives of the various business entities we work with here in New Jersey since my arrival nearly one year ago. These types of conversations aren’t new to me. Of the 19 years I’ve spent in the credit union movement, 100% of them have involved interaction with or employment as a supplier to credit unions. I have sat across the desk from credit union CEOs and executives hundreds of times, discussing value proposition, service level expectations, corporate philosophy, and impact on the bottom line. Those discussions have been extremely valuable in shaping my perception of the business environment in and around the movement.

As chairman of Professional Services Group (PSG) of New Jersey, I have taken time to understand and evaluate the structure of our business partner relationships, the delivery of our partners’ messages and, in some cases, the products we directly administer through the organization. There are many positives, yet evolution is essential in the fast-paced environment in which we operate.

Internally, we are working on process improvements to be certain you understand the “whys” related to which business partners have been selected. Of course some of those reasons are (or should be) fairly obvious, such as being the nation’s largest credit union-owned, surcharge-free ATM network; having a long history of success with credit unions and being recognized as Barron’s #1 Financial Advisor in New Jersey; being founded by credit union pioneers and partnering in the success of the movement on all fronts for over 75 years; partnering directly with PSG and the New Jersey Credit Union League to launch innovative new lending channels; or providing access to national and international brands that offer discounted services directly to credit union members.

Other reasons may not be so obvious, and that is where I see room for improvement. As we move forward, it is my intent to have PSG provide more information on the strengths of our business partners, allowing you to get a jump-start on your due diligence in what has become an ongoing vendor evaluation process.

We will also be asking for more involvement from you. Whether through technology or in-person conversations, we have increased and will continue to provide channels to further increase the opportunity for you to provide feedback on new business lines, as well as existing and prospective business partners. While we fully intend to continue to bring new ideas forward, your voice in vetting those and providing additional ideas is essential. That is how, as an aggregator, PSG can best serve your credit unions and members.

Expect more on this topic in the second half of the year, as we work on raising the bar on our efforts in this area. I understand how important strong, trusted business partnerships are to your operations and place our responsibility to serve the affiliated credit unions of this state as a resource in this regard very high.

Was it Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor? 

A commentary on the reaction to NCUA’s proposed Risk-Based Capital rule.
Posted by Greg Michlig Tuesday, April 01, 2014 10:58:00 AM

I’m guessing many of you know the scene from the movie Animal House when Dean Wormer comes down hard on Delta Tau Chi Fraternity. If you don’t, you should stop what you are doing, write a comment letter to NCUA on the Risk-Based Capital proposal, and then rent/download the movie and watch it.

For those of you who do recall, you’re probably chuckling to yourself right now. However, in the context I’m thinking, you shouldn’t be. The scene begins with John “Bluto” Blutarsky (played by John Belushi) walking in to find his fraternity brothers and exclaiming:

“Hey! What’s all this laying around stuff? Why are you all still laying around here for?”

His brothers fill him in on what’s happened…the administration has laid the groundwork for expulsion of the fraternity and its members from the college. Blutarsky goes on with the well-known, historically inaccurate, yet strongly motivational:

“What? Over? Did you say ‘over’? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”

Funny, I know…especially if you have seen it.

The reason this comes to mind, though, is that I have the same question for all of you when it comes to NCUA’s proposed Risk-Based Capital rule (available here).

“Hey! What’s all this laying around stuff? Why are you all still laying around here for?”

There has been a massive amount of information published in the press, provided by CUNA and NJCUL, and discussed at small meetings, large conferences, through Webinars, and on conference calls since the day this proposal was rolled out. The consensus is…this rule as written, will, among other things:

- Disincent many forms of credit union lending and long-term investments.

- Restrict capital investment, in order to re-establish acceptable risk-based capital levels.

- Increase the need for non-interest income.

- Increase the pressures for consolidation.

- In short: Cripple the credit union movement.

This is a BIG DEAL, folks. And to that, I say:

Was it over when the NCUA rolled out the Risk-Based Capital proposal? Hell no!

But you need to get up off the couch and run out the door (or to your desk) yelling “Let’s do it!”

We have held two of three collaborative comment letter writing sessions in New Jersey and have had minimal participation. This is disappointing.

We have heard people say a) this doesn’t affect our small credit union, b) I’m not good at writing comment letters, c) I don’t want retribution from the regulator, and the list goes on.

Simply put: a) regulation on one credit union inevitably affects all credit unions, b) there are tools, resources, and FREE workshops to help you craft your comment letters, c) if you sit idly by, they’ve already won the battle.

The New Jersey Credit Union League will be filing its first (there may be more) comment letter this week. If you have visited www.njcul.org recently, you will see this is the preeminent issue on the home page. There is a countdown to the closing date for comment letters and a tally of how many of you have stepped up to the plate. CUNA president/CEO, Bill Cheney, will be here for an NJCUL Town Hall meeting today and you can bet this will be a topic of significance.

This is a BIG DEAL!

There are a myriad of issues to comment on with regards to this proposal.

- First and foremost, excessive capital requirements, primarily on lending, but also CUSO investments.

- No recognition of the fact that while a credit union may remain “Well Capitalized” in the new system, the amount to reach the buffer credit unions now have above the minimum requirement is an additional $7.3B that will need to be raised.

- Length of time allotted to restructure balance sheets if passed, is far too short (18 months, vs. 2019 for banks to conform to Basel III).

- NCUA examiners have the ability to subjectively require higher risk-based capital for individual credit unions.

- With credit unions’ success in weathering the recent Great Recession relative to other financial institutions, is this rule even necessary?

- Is it in violation of the Federal Credit Union Act?

This is not the place to list all the concerns, but it is also not the last you will hear from us on this. 

The New Jersey Credit Union League will be sending information directly to credit unions regarding the financial and regulatory realities of this rule very soon. We will also continue to provide assistance through our Compliance Hotline (800-792-8861 ext. 112) and in league publications.

CUNA has provided great resources and documentation on this issue at www.cuna.org/rbc. There, in addition to a detailed review of the rule in several forms, you can find a calculator that provides more depth in its ability to analyze your current and projected realities based on this rule, than what you would find on the NCUA Web site.

This is a CALL-TO-ACTION, my friends. Whether a credit union or a provider for credit unions, YOUR LIVELIHOOD IS AT STAKE. It is not the time to sit on the sidelines, idly by. It is time to step up and say:

“Let’s do it!”

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. 

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