Elections may be approaching, but for some credit unions political activism continues long after the campaigning ends. Credit unions like BECU in Seattle, Washington, and Superior Federal Credit Union in Lima, Ohio, look beyond the ballot box and make year-round efforts to build and maintain relationships with their legislators.
Both credit unions’ efforts have proven very successful. “We believe building strong legislative relationships is a core competency for our credit union’s long term survival,” said Phil Buell, CEO of Superior FCU.
This year when BECU management rolled out 35 new branches, they invited elected officials to visit the new branches within their district. Tom Berquist, marketing manager at BECU, advocates continually engaging elected officials to maintain and improve relationships.
“We try to include even a federal congress person or a state rep by inviting them to visit our branches in their district,” said Berquist. “We try to keep that constant engagement so they don’t forget about us.”
BECU’s efforts have inspired other credit unions in their state. While 20 years ago they were the first in Washington state to host a legislative dinner, now many credit unions in the state also host similar events. They also host an annual scholarship dinner and invite legislators to speak. Berquist says these events have helped BECU make strong personal contacts with legislators and gain insight into what they are doing.
These ties have been helpful when they have e-mailed or contacted officials at a later date. In addition, legislators and staff now consult BECU when issues arise affecting lending, consumer services, or banking in general.
Another advantage Superior has found is local interactions help reinforce their ties with legislators’ districts. Superior tries to have personal contact with an elected official three to five times within his or her actual district for every one meeting at the official’s office.
Superior vice president of sales and lending, Keith Elden, held a local fundraiser for a state legislator at his home this year. The legislator mingled with credit union executives and local community members. The event not only provided a personal forum for the legislator to learn more about Superior FCU, but a lasting relationship was formed with Elden. He has since participated in parades and campaign activities.
Berquist says that branch visits, dinners or other personal meetings with legislators are an opportunity to emphasize credit unions’ member-advocacy philosophy. When BECU invited legislators to visit their new branches, they also provided information on the amounts they fundraised for a local school within the official’s district. Educating legislators of contributions within their districts provides them with additional reasons to support credit unions.
While it might seem challenging to get legislators to attend events, Superior reports a 70 percent acceptance rate when inviting legislators to events of mutual interest they are hosting or sponsoring. Superior Financial Education Day, an event for local high school students in mid-October, is one example. Congressmen Mike Oxley, Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, accepted Superior’s invitation to speak at the event.
Oxley is also hosting a Financial Services Roundtable Breakfast later in October for the local chamber of commerce which Superior is sponsoring. Buell recommends utilizing the local chamber of commerce as another legislative arm.
“Building a relationship with our local chamber of commerce is not only good for business but good politically,” said Buell.
BECU has seen the impact of their actions. They have recently influenced legislation regarding financial fraud, identity theft, title transfers, and corporate governance. Superior also recognizes the long term impact of political action.
“Political action does take time and money. However, as credit union leaders it is our responsibility to build relationships and tell the credit union story. We will win our future legislative battles by building strong relationships today,” said Buell.