One thing stood out to me listening to the politicians’ speeches at the Governmental Affairs Conference: I wouldn’t have known what party they belonged to unless I already knew.
Unlike the pugnacious and at times appalling rhetoric that has marked this presidential season so far, the GAC speakers largely kept things on topic for credit unions — regulatory relief — and spoke to the middle.
For instance: “We’re very close to losing that unique relationship that credit unions and community banks have with their communities. We’ve been able to get some reforms done, but there’s not been enough. There’s a great silent majority — a moderate majority — of people who just want us to get the job done. A small group of us moderate senators will be coming together to seek that middle ground.”
That was from first-term Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Democrat of North Dakota. Then there was this: “Here in Washington you see the same stale ads during the GAC from the usual naysayers. That’s the usual vitriol here, the false dichotomy that says someone has to win and someone has to lose, that credit unions are taking from one pie and giving to another. But back home, credit unions and bankers are having lunch together and referring business to each other.”
That’s from Rep. Ed Royce, a Los Angeles Republican who after 23 years in Congress is now chair of the powerful House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Royce also is a senior member of some influential financial services subcommittees. He called on the GAC general session crowd — as they were about to embark on their hikes up the hill on Wednesday — to advocate for the Credit Union Small Business Jobs Development Act and help him build a bipartisan co-sponsor list for the measure that would legislatively lift the member business lending cap to 27.5% of total assets.
The MBL cap is just part of the problem. Another powerful GOP lawmaker and credit union advocate, West Texas Rep. Randy Neugebauer, reminded credit union leaders to remind their lawmakers that credit unions were not the cause of the financial crisis, and he also took aim at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director’s comments that credit unions should be pulled further under its umbrella. (Check out “Cordray To Credit Unions: Respect My Authority!”)
“We can’t allow one person to determine the kind of financial services you’ll provide. We don’t need government driving our marketplace,” Neugebauer told the GAC audience.
That resonated with Debora Almirall, president/CEO of Minnesota Power Employees Credit Union ($92.1M, Duluth, MN). “I’ve hired a fulltime compliance person and we’re now outsourcing mortgages. We’re being devastated by regulations,” Almirall says. “And I think it’s really sad to have to tell a member that we can’t do a relationship loan because the NCUA examiners won’t accept them.”
Almirall isn’t sitting back, however. Her credit union has been doing business lending now for a couple years, after hiring someone with 20 years’ experience in that specialty, although she says she’s had to turn away more than $5 million in such loans because of the cap.
“We’ve had a successful grassroots effort about the tax exemption. They listened to that. We should be able to do the same thing for regulatory relief. They need to hear from businesses and individuals affected by all this. They just need to be educated,” says Almirall, referring to lawmakers, although she also doubles as a financial literacy instructor for the University of Phoenix.
Getting out the credit union message of value and service also resonated with Sarah Menihan, director of member sales and services for 23-branch UW Credit Union ($2.1B, Madison, WI).
“We try to teach the difference in our branches, but I think people who have always been with banks don’t understand how great credit unions are, how big the difference is,” she says, and then strikes this hopeful note before she joined her colleagues for their congressional meetings:
“I think the politicians already probably know, but we just need to remind them about how much money we save members, about how we give back to the community, about how we provide financial literacy, even putting branches in high schools, the least-profitable model.
“We just need to tell our story better, and they’ll understand.”
Also from the 2016 GAC: