I have an excuse for not knowing much about the credit union movement for the first 8 or so years I was involved in working with it; I was never an employee of a credit union. I was just a vendor; and the credit union was just a client. I enjoyed working for the credit union because it was something I could believe in from a marketing point-of-view; I wasn’t schlepping potato chips or anything else that was bad for you. Credit unions really help people, and the more I got know these curious entities and the incredible people that worked within them, the more I grew to appreciate what a very special and marvelous movement it is.
That is why I remain stunned that so few people in the movement have a real understanding about what credit unions are or represent. Certainly, the folks at the NCUA don’t get it. Have we hired a bunch of laid-off bankers to fill the leadership roles there?
I will try to more calmly explain what has got me riled up.
Yesterday, the NCUA held a webinar to explain more about their recently announced Corporate Stab Program, and to answer questions from the attendees. More than 3500 people joined the call. The first 30 minutes was presentation from the NCUA, and the last 60 minutes were spent fielding a constant stream of excellent questions from the audience. I don’t blame the NCUA for the Corporate Stab Program; that’s a mess created primarily by US Central FCU. But a number of the NCUA’s answers yesterday rubbed me the wrong way, and I’ll address the grievances I caught from least important to most important.
First, can someone please buy the NCUA a technology clue? They said that an archived webinar would be available in two weeks. Are you SERIOUS? Anyone in on the call could have recorded it and made it available INSTANTLY or, at the very least, later that SAME DAY. Oh well, moving on…
At one point, one of the NCUA presenters (I forget who) talked about how important it was for credit unions to answer the request for comment on the APNR- about how to restructure the Corporate Credit Union System- because, after all, “you’re going to own it.”
GOING TO? REALLY? Did I hear that right? The credit union movement is “GOING TO” own the corporate credit union network? UMM, EXCUSE ME, the credit union movement ALREADY owns the corporate credit union system BECAUSE THEY CREATED IT in the first place! Perhaps it’s exactly this kind of us versus them mentality that led to problems in the first place? This notion that somehow the corporates, by virtue of their size, are somehow doing regular credit unions a favor by the nature of their existence instead of the other way around? Well, I can forgive this mis-statement as just “one of those things” that happens on a live call with the pressure of 3500 people listening, that he didn’t really mean to say, and would likely retract upon further reflection.
But the number one statement from the NCUA that concerned me was that they have “no position, one way or another” as to whether they should be pursuing TARP money from the federal government. That they don’t know how credit unions feel about it, because they’ve heard threatening statements (“we’ll leave the trade organizations”) from credit unions, on both sides of the issue.
First of all, the statement that the NCUA has no opinion in the matter is false, as evidenced by NCUA Chairman Michael Fryzel’s request for TARP funds dating back at least to November 2008, here, here, and here.
Second of all, the fact that the NCUA doesn’t have a handle on where credit unions stand is inexcusable. Ummmm, I think it’s been pretty clearly established that we live in the information age. It’s not like the pony express era when we had to wait weeks for the horses to ride across the rocky mountains and great plains states. At least they’ve set up (four months too late as Jeffry Pilcher points out) an online survey. (But they are not showing the results! Credit Union members deserve to know WHO is voting for WHAT! Christian Mullins analyzes this poll on his blog)
But most galling of all, is the inexcusable lack of understanding about what a credit union IS. (A credit union is a member-owned, cooperative, not-for-profit financial institution.) What really makes me sad is that whether or not to pursue taxpayer TARP money is being framed in terms of political EXPEDIENCY AND RAMIFICATION. Will it or won’t it affect credit union tax-exemption? Is it or is it not the least costly option to the bottom line?
What happened to principles?
Why is it that I had been working to serve the credit union movement for more than ten years before I ever heard of the seven cooperative principles that are part of all cooperatives, including credit unions? (And I heard about them from a Canadian, no less? Are they given merely lip-service in the U.S.?)
One of the principles that the credit union cooperative movement is founded on is AUTONOMY and INDEPENDENCE. During the height of the Great Depression, the credit union movement blossomed as part of the SOLUTION, not part of the PROBLEM. Why would we start being part of the problem now? Why is no one voicing the point that we should be distancing ourselves as far as possible from the TARP bailout money because it would be the WRONG THING TO DO ON PRINCIPLE?
Why is the credit union movement worth working in and fighting for? Is it for the lower pay that can be expected as compared to working for a bank? I dare say no. It’s because we have principles, principles that put PEOPLE BEFORE PROFIT. Principles that self-sufficiency and education are our goals and our purpose. If we take TARP money, or even ask for it as “backup”, we are violating our own principles and may as well close up shop anyway.
After all, as Jon Stewart of the Daily Show said a few weeks ago,
“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested– [then] they’re not values, they’re hobbies!”
Can someone please get the NCUA some Credit Union Development Education (CUDE) training please, before it’s too late? (P.S. Why isn’t CUDE or equivalent training mandatory for the NCUA, Corporate Credit Unions, credit union management, and everyone else involved in the CU movement, most especially new credit union employees?)
It’s EXACTLY this bank-like “get the most money at all costs” thinking that got credit unions INTO this mess. We need to DROP that bank-like mentality in order to get out of it. Getting out of the TARP line is the correct next step to getting our own house back in order. Getting CUDE-type education to everyone at all levels involved with credit unions is the correct next step after that.