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The Cheney Report - 3/1/2013

By:  Bill Cheney, President, CEO of the Credit Union National Association, Inc.

GAC In the Rearview Mirror, But New Vision Just Beginning
We had an outstanding Governmental Affairs Conference this week.  My thanks to the more than 4,200 of you who attended and helped make it a huge success.  The Hill visits were productive, our speakers delivered powerful messages that made national news and I was very pleased with the reaction to my presentation on a new strategic vision for the credit union system.

Our vision, which grows out of what we heard from credit union leaders—is straightforward:  "Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner."  To get there, our movement must rally together and “Unite for Good.”  Now is the perfect time.  We are seeing a values-driven cultural shift in this country that is right in our wheelhouse.  People are drawn to businesses they can trust and that have their best interests at heart—that’s credit unions all over!

Some have asked me if Unite for Good is a “Got Milk?” type public awareness/advertising campaign. It is not. Our focus is on rallying credit union leaders toward shared goals that advance us toward our common vision.  One of those goals centers on raising consumer awareness.  But we’re urging credit unions to find the best way of doing this in their own communities (earned media, social media, through civic organizations or state/local cooperative ad campaigns).

Along with raising awareness, our other primary goals are removing legislative/regulatory barriers and fostering service excellence.  Credit unions are asking what actions they can take.  We’ll soon be sharing specific ideas for making advances in all of these areas.  As you’ll see, our emphasis will be squarely on rallying the credit union community together to “Unite for Good.”  Success here, in turn, will lead to gains not only in awareness, but also advocacy and market share.

Powerful Hill Voices Back CU Tax Status
Lots of GAC buzz about the remarks from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) in favor of preserving credit unions’ tax status.  Specifically, he said Congress will not tax credit unions “if I have anything to do with it.”  What’s so significant is he would have something to do with it.  Rep. Hensarling heads one of the House’s most powerful committees, and as a former Republican Conference Chair, he recently served as the fourth-highest ranking member of the House’s majority party.  His comments in support of our tax status will carry enormous weight in Congress.

More Noteworthy Comments Heard at GAC:

  • Beyond taxation, many at GAC spoke up in favor of member business lending, capital reform legislation and regulatory relief.  Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), senior Democrat on the Financial Services, was among the most emphatic in declaring her support for credit unions, saying:  “I want you to know that you have a friend in the Congress of the United States of America.  As ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, you can count on me to look out for you.”  Strong words!
  • It was not only legislators.  Two high-profile media figures expressed appreciation for the great value and service credit unions provide to consumers.  Jean Chatzky, personal finance editor of NBC’s Today show, said she has become a fan of credit unions, while Elisabeth Leamy, consumer correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America, told a GAC breakout session on effectively pitching the media that she considers herself a credit union “groupie.”  That must make us financial rock stars!
  • NCUA Chairman Matz talked of a “new NCUA,” one that “is not here to hold credit unions back.”  Likewise, CFPB Director Richard Cordray said the bureau’s pro-credit union views will shape its approach to rulemaking.  “The traditional credit union model is deserving of respect and should be treated differently under our rules,” he said.  Again, these are welcome words, but the proof will be in the actions that follow.  This week, CUNA filed our comment letter asking the CFPB to exempt all credit unions from its QM/ability-to-repay mortgage rule.

GAC Shows CU People Trump Bank Dollars
The ABA thought they could disrupt our GAC Hill visits with radio and print ads attacking credit unions.  Think again.  As CUNA’s Ryan Donovan told American Banker newspaper, “The ABA may be running a radio ad, but we have more than 4,200 real people in Washington meeting personally with their members of Congress to explain that a tax on credit unions is a tax on their 96 million member-owners."  We have real people power; the banks can only throw around money—typical!

Quick, What’s Your 30-Second Taxation Speech?
Credit union tax status was the most-discussed topic during the GAC’s Hill visits, according to the reports we’ve heard back from our credit union/league delegations.  The reports align with what our lobbyists have been hearing:  No direct threat is imminent, but you still need to make your case because tax reform is unpredictable.

And when making the case, time counts.  When you’ve got the ear of a member of Congress, you may only have seconds to get your point across.  One powerful line I like is, “Banks use people to make money; credit unions use money to help people.”  Another is: “Taxing credit unions is really a tax on 96 million credit union members.”  Yet another good one is: “To know a credit union is to like a credit union, to use a credit union is to love a credit union.”  I would be interested in knowing what 30-second “elevator speech” works for you.

So much happened at GAC we can’t begin to cover it all here.  If you missed anything at GAC, you can find detailed recaps in CUNA’s News Now and on our creditunionmagazine.com web site.

Before I go, I want to note that CUNA recognizes the challenges our credit unions are facing on the regulatory and compliance fronts.  We continue to look for ways to help.  On March 7 we will be hosting a free audio conference—“Pressing Regulatory & Compliance Issues” that will cover a host of key issues. Check out the details and sign up for this free event.

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