In Memoriam: Dave Serlo

Dave was a cooperative entrepreneur who enabled the credit union system to compete in the 21st century.

 
 

In December 1982 Dave was a key player in an NCUA team  implementing a strategic plan to take the CLF public.   The intent was to fund this startup liquidity facility within the NCUA by issuing bonds to create a quasi-GSE entity that would have some of the same capabilities as the Federal Reserve, the FHLB system and even US Central.

Ed Callahan, NCUA Chairman asked me to review the plan as CLF President.  The critical issue was whether the CLF, as the lender of unfailing reliability for credit unions, would still have the ability to raise funds in the open market during a crisis without a US government guarantee.  We believed that should there be a liquidity emergency shutting borrowers out of the market, fulfilling the CLF’s liquidity backstop role would require a full faith and credit option.  

We learned that the public bonds could not be guaranteed by the US Government.  Moreover  the CLF would not have access to the Treasury’s Federal Financing Bank if it went to the open market.  The policy rationale of the Regan administration was to control the issuance of federal debt by centralizing all full faith and credit borrowings in one entity.  

After that decision we stopped the public funding approach and relied instead on the Federal Financing Bank.  As a result of that decision and the downsizing that occurred throughout the federal government in the early 80's, Dave found a new position with a CUSO start up doing credit card processing in Florida.

The Entrepreneur

At PSCU Financial Services Dave spend almost 30 years building a cooperative card payment  and financial services powerhouse that has been integral in credit union’s competing in credit, debit, prepaid, bill pay and other settlement services.  

While his achievements at PSCU Financial Services are best told by the firm, I admire how his creative ambition that had initially developed a nation-wide credit union solution for the CLF was instead implemented at PSCU. 

Callahan’s Relationship with Dave

Dave was a professional colleague who always responded when we sought his advice.  While much of the contact was at the senior staff level, there were two special times I talked with him about new ventures.

The first was to design a “cooperative strategic planning”  course in which credit union leaders would spend a week with a leading business school’s faculty and attempt to identify opportunities to expand the cooperative model.   I described the concept at a PSCU Financial Services senior management planning session in St. Petersburg as an example of innovation during a State of the Industry presentation. 

As I walked to the parking lot to drive back to the airport, Dave followed me and said if you go ahead with that effort, you can count on our support.  Two weeks later the Leadership Colloquium at Georgetown’s Graduate School of Business was announced for that September.  His commitment was critical for getting the program off the ground because of the financial guarantee required by the school.

A second event occurred two and a half years ago.   For several years Callahans and its CUSO partners had been looking at the possibilities for a cooperative credit union role in student lending.  For months we had worked to develop a business plan, but to succeed we would need partners.  Timing was critical. Student lending is a very seasonal activity and if you are not in the market at the right time, a whole year of opportunity is missed.

With a draft plan in, we asked to see Dave right away.  He was in senior management meetings all week, but said if we could come down he would take time  to listen.   He listened for much longer than the hour he promised. He asked several of his senior managers to also hear our pitch.   As we left Dave said that he would talk it over and let us know their decision.

Within a day or two he called back to say PSCU Financial Services would support the venture which launched seven months later, in May of 2008, as Credit Union Student Choice.   Today this CUSO is the leader in bringing low cost student loans to credit unions around the country.   From the first day the program had 7 day a week, 24 hour operational  and contact center support because of PSCU Financial Services role.

Dave as a Cooperative Leader

Callahan’ and PSCU Financial Services’ credit union member-owners were not the sole beneficiaries of Dave’s cooperative vision.  His support for the Filene Institute’s programs, the Children’s Miracle Network (and especially the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10K here in DC), NACUSO and numerous other system organizations is legendary.

His work was a reflection of his inner self.   He never sought individual recognition.  He believed strongly in cooperative values.  He created genuine “common wealth” that is a bountiful legacy that will continue to benefit credit unions, their members and Americans who have yet to join a credit union. His leadership will indeed be sorely missed, but his contributions are a vital part of the cooperative system’s equity that will be central to its success in the 21st century.