Lobbying And Advocacy At A Northeastern Credit Union

The government relations and engagement chief at Visions FCU shares how the New York-Pennsylvania-New Jersey credit union makes lobbying a team effort.

 
 

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Member needs and service determine legislative priorities at Visions FCU. Cybersecurity, regulatory costs, and the tax exemption top the list.
  • The credit union’s government relations officer says it is best to be specific with data and other impact evidence.

Trish Shermot has been government relations and engagement officer at Visions Federal Credit Union ($4.1B, Endicott, NY) since March 2015. She oversees efforts to support legislative and other outreach important to the credit union, its members, and the movement.

According to Shermot, the credit union has been engaged in such work for decades, but her role is meant to help the credit union get back in touch with the advocacy efforts it committed to several years ago.

CU QUICK FACTS

Visions FCU
Data as of 06.30.17

HQ: Endicott, NY
ASSETS: $4.1B
MEMBERS: 186,954
BRANCHES: 43
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.4%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.9%
ROA: 0.70%

Here, Shermot describes how lobbying, advocacy, and other engagement works in unison at the credit union that serves markets in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

See why some credit unions are looking to professionals to advocate at the state house and on Capitol Hill in "From Hobbyists To Lobbyists."

How do you describe your job?

Trish Shermot: Simply put, the role of the government relations and engagement officer is to give voice to the more than 187,000 members of Visions and their best interests from a financial services and data security standpoint.

 

 

 

Visions educates members in legislation and supports a “call to action” portal on the www.visionsfcu.org/Advocacy site. Our team lobbies from both a state and federal standpoint, visiting legislators in district and on the Hill. Building and maintaining relationships with their staffers is key to our ongoing engagement efforts.

How is advocacy at Visions a team effort?

TS: The Visions team is our staff, members, and board of directors. It takes a great deal of effort to move the needle on legislation, and that’s why we need to share the responsibility and continue to communicate our messaging. And I do feel like we’re moving the needle.

We use our subject matter experts on data security, lending, and member experience to drill down on costs, stories, and pain points of our members. Our business development, marketing, and communications teams fulfill the financial literacy initiatives and create briefs specific to our communications statements to our legislators and members.

What do you do in terms of engagement?

TS: The Visions team keeps legislators abreast of the number of members within their districts, events and activities the credit union is involved in, and efforts to grow business and the economy in each legislator’s district.

We are specific with what we ask legislators to do. We offer to be both a source and resource to support efforts to move forward legislation that financially assists members and the communities they live in.

We invite legislators to events in their districts, including branch openings, annual meetings, and career fairs. Legislative members have presented to Visions advisory council members and are part of our ongoing communications initiatives.

As drivers of change, our message resonates with data and stories of how legislation has affected our members.

Trish Shermot, Government Relations & Engagement Office, Visions FCU

Do you work on local, state, or national issues? Or all three?

TS: The Visions team focuses on federal issues first and foremost. As drivers of change, our message resonates with data and stories of how legislation has affected our members. We do also keep a pulse on state issues and visit with state legislators to ensure our members’ voices are heard in the community.

How do you determine which issues to work on?

TS: Our members’ needs are first and foremost. As their voice, we can supply data, statistics, and cause/effect scenarios. We look at real data and how legislation has changed the way business is done and ask for corrections through sponsorship and co-sponsorship support on current bills in the House and Senate.

What are some national issues you’ve worked on?

Advocacy Advice

Trish Shermot, government relations and engagement officer at Visions FCU, has a few suggestions for credit unions considering a stronger advocacy role.

  1. Understand what the credit union’s priorities are as they relate to members. Those should also be the legislative priorities.
  2. Identify members within legislative districts. Visions uses CUNA’s Project ZIP Code.
  3. Identify legislators that need to hear the credit union’s messages, and start building relationships.
  4. Create a plan, then work with leagues and trade associations for messaging assistance.
  5. Include key performance indicators as part of the plan.
  6. Educate employees on the plan and goals of the credit union advocacy efforts.
  7. Continually communicate with members, legislators, and credit union staff on what’s important and how the credit union is making headway.
  8. Ask for support. Have supporters write letters, answer member questions, support the PAC, and more.

TS: Top-of-mind for all financial institutions is the need for national data security standards. Breaches have cost financial institutions and the members we serve great financial burdens, whereas the merchants have no skin in the game when it comes to taking responsibility. Financial institutions have had to cover the costs of reissuing cards, complying with EMV chip cards, and changing all ATMs to enable EMV chip acceptance.

A second issue is the 12.25% member business lending cap. In the 90s, HR 1151 placed a cap on how much credit unions could lend to members for business loans. Bills have been introduced to raise the cap to 27.5%, but they have yet to pass the House and Senate. The cap stymies business growth and job creation in communities as more small business members look to their credit union for lending. Credit unions that are near the MBL cap might have to turn away business that other financial institutions do not want.

Another big issue is regulatory relief. As you know, when the CFPB was created more than 199 new regulations were imposed on financial institutions. Many of these regulations have wreaked havoc on the industry and our members, adding regulatory and compliance costs of upwards of $7.2 billion industrywide.

Lastly, taxation. Keeping credit unions tax exempt is of utmost important to members and the communities we serve. According to CUNA, removing the credit union tax exemption would cause $15 billion in lost income tax revenue. GDP would be reduced by $148 billion, and 1.5 million jobs would be lost over a decade.

What are some state issues you’ve worked on?

TS: Our New York priorities are the inclusion of credit unions in the state Banking Development Districts Program, increasing penalties for robberies committed with a demand note, allowing credit unions to accept municipal deposits, and the creation of a state funds deposit program.

Pennsylvania legislators are working on passing a bill in the Senate that would permit financial institutions to conduct savings promotion raffles. A similar bill has already been passed in New Jersey and New York. Visions members in New York can currently take advantage of the prize-linked savings program through the credit union.

In New Jersey, we’re advocating for an electronic lien and titling system (ELT) for motor vehicles. ELT significantly reduces paperwork, costs, and fraud for both lienholders and the state. Pennsylvania and New York, as well as a growing number of other states, have ELT systems in place.

How do you work with the leagues and the trade groups?

TS: Having more voices with the same message helps champion our cause. Our leagues and trade associations promote communication and work in concert with credit unions and legislators regarding credit union issues. They’ve been instrumental in providing information and stewarding our message to legislators.

Continuing to have national data and statistics along with simple messaging and outstanding lobbying efforts is just what we need to move the needle on legislative changes. And I feel like we’ve been moving the needle.

 

Oct. 16, 2017


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