GAC Coverage: NC Credit Unions Conclude Successful Hill Visits

Nearly 80 NC credit union representatives converged on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to share their stories with members of Congress. Even though credit unions are holding up very well in the financial crisis, there are still some relevant issues on the table – so it was good to meet with lawmakers and relate these issues.

For lawmakers, the credit union visits were a refreshing change of pace from the daily grind of hearing about meltdowns and taxpayer bailouts. The pace up here is breakneck – even more so than normal.

The credit union groups shared their perspectives on issues such as the mortgage cramdown bill, interchange fee income, member business lending and changing the amount of time to restore the Share Insurance Fund. The tone of the meetings overall was positive, and there is a sense that credit unions are the “shining stars” right now as one credit union person put it. 

In the above video, credit union people who made those visits share the issues of importance to their credit unions and speak to the mood in Washington these days.

As part of these interviews, I had the great privilege of chatting with Greensboro Health Care Credit Union manager Genice DeCorte. DeCorte is a passionate advocate for the credit union movement, and cares deeply about people. This truth shines through in the below video, which shares how DeCorte and the credit union are helping people in the current economy.

As we head back to NC there’s a great sense that credit unions, despite all that has happened in the last several weeks, are doing great things in the eyes of our elected leaders.

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GAC Coverage: Stabilization Plan, Financial Crisis Take Center Stage in DC

The CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference is underway in Washington, DC! Nearly 80 people from NC have made the trek to participate in CUNA’s flagship political event.

The big topic of discussion is of course the NCUA Corporate Stabilization Plan. CUNA held a special session early this morning to update the attendees about the plan and the work that CUNA’s special committee has been doing to help soften the economic blow for credit unions.

The plan has of course generated a lot of concern and questions among credit unions. But it’s clear that NC folks are resolved to work together toward a solution, and committed to solving the problem using credit union system resources.

The stabilization plan and the ongoing financial crisis will likely be key topics of discussion on Wednesday, as the folks who have come here from NC will converge on the Capitol to meet with their elected leaders. Gregory Jenkins, a volunteer with Greensboro Municipal Credit Union, is one of the people who will head to the Hill to speak with his elected leaders.

This is Gregory’s first GAC – and he’s only been on the GMCU board for two years now. But it’s clear in speaking with him that he has a passion for serving the members of the credit union – especially now that the economy is in recession and so many are struggling. 

Gregory came to the GAC with fellow board member Matt Holmen to learn more about the stabilization plan. Like many here, he isn’t happy at the income hit the credit union will take. But like many others in attendance, he is committed to looking within the system for the solution to the problem. 

Gregory spent a few minutes with me on camera discussing how the credit union is helping members deal with the recession, his thoughts about the stabilization plan, and the message he will take to members of Congress on Wednesday.

Giving the Gift of Savings – to Ourselves and Others

America Saves Week begins Sunday, February 22, and the event comes this year as consumers all across the country rededicate themselves to the principle of saving to buy later instead of charging to buy now. With this in mind, here are two credit union savings programs that crossed my desk this week that I thought I would share with you.

The Rainy Day Savings Account – Truliant FCU

Truliant’s Rainy Day Savings Account is based on the idea that pennies add up over time. On a daily basis, the credit union sweeps the change in member checking accounts to this special savings account. For new savers,  this product will teach both the power of compounding and persistence when it comes to saving money – and hopefully open the door to a new awareness of how people can take charge of their lives by paying themselves first.

The Match Savings Program – The World Council of Credit Unions

WOCCU’s recently-announced Match Savings Program allows credit union people worldwide to promote savings among impoverished  people living in rural Mexico. People who need to pay for basic things such as shoes and school gear for kids — or even a trip to the dentist — open savings accounts. As these new savers contribute to their credit union  accounts, they are matched by your contributions to the program.

All contributions are tax deductible, but the real value lies in helping people empower themselves. Times are tough and extra money is hard to find these days, but I hope you’ll give thought to supporting this wonderful program.

There’s also a Social Networking component to the Match Savings Program, so even if you can’t contribute directly to the program – you can still contribute.

The economic crisis has reminded everyone of the basic value of pay-as-you-go. Kudos to both Truliant and WOCCU for their work, and to all credit unions that are continuing to promote thrift to their membership.

Being There: Staff, Volunteers Advocate for Credit Unions in Raleigh

On Wednesday, May 28th, representatives of the Piedmont, Northwest, Foothills and Western Chapters paid visits to their elected leaders in Raleigh. The visits, which are part of the annual State Capital Connections program, came one week after members of the Tarheel, North Piedmont, Northeast and Southeast Chapters visited with members of the NC General Assembly.

Not unlike the Hike the Hill events in Washington, DC, SCC involves a lot of talking, walking and handshaking. But through each step, word and extended hand, important relationships are developed or renewed.

Fueling the meetings this year was the recent release of Dr. William Jackson’s study, which showed that credit unions saved their members and other consumers a whopping $529 million in one year! These results, which Jackson based on 2006 data, show the impact and value of NC credit unions — especially now that the economy is struggling.

Beyond the fact that the credit union folks relate stories that inform policy makers about the value credit unions bring to local communities, these meetings represent lobbying as its supposed to be: grassroots constituents sharing their perspectives. What these folks are doing is so far removed from the K Street nonsense that comes to mind when many think of lobbying.

In the above video, you’ll hear from Lori Thompson, one of those grassroots credit union advocates, as well as Dan Schline of the League and Rep. Trudi Walend (R-Transylvania), who graciously sat down for an interview despite her frenetic schedule. But the League thanks all of the credit union staff and volunteers who took time out of their schedule the past couple of weeks to join us for State Capital Connections.

The Paulson Plan: What’s A Credit Union to Do?

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson’s recently announced plan to overhaul the regulation of the US financial services industry has generated much concern in credit union circles, and rightly so. There was a terrific discussion about the plan’s implications on the OpenSource CU Blog last week. 

Late in the week, many folks were no doubt cheered by the remarks of House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank. (Also, as you probably know – Paulson himself said that the credit union reaction to the plan was “a bit premature.”)

Despite late-week assurances, I think CUNA is right on the money to get in front of this thing – and there are a few key lessons for credit unions to draw from this:

  1. Keep telling your stories (and if you aren’t – START!). A comment that was attributed to Uber-Marketer Ron Shevlin at BarCampBank New England this past weekend says it best: “It’s not about telling members our stories, but about getting them to tell their own stories. Create experiences.” (Thanks to Andy LaFlamme of Maine State CU for relaying this quote via Twitter.)   
    I’m pretty sure that Ron was referring to the word-of-mouth that happens when a credit union comes through for a member when it matters most. I would take this one step further and encourage you to find those member stories and where possible and permissible, share them with the world using your existing message channels. Add them to your newsletter, put them out on your web site and share them when you mix and mingle in your community. And do these things regularly.
    Low fees and good deposit rates are nice, but frankly that’s banker-speak. The difference your credit union makes in people’s lives IS the CU difference – everything else is secondary.   
  2. Get involved politically. We are blessed in NC to have so many great credit union advocates who get involved in the political process … but there’s always room for more! While some people go to Raleigh as part of State Capital Connections or DC for Hike the Hill, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your own credit union branch to advocate for your credit union! You can host a legislator at your CU, hold voter registration drives and many other activities to develop relationships with elected leaders. These relationships give you the opportunity to share the credit union difference with lawmakers. If you have any questions about how to get involved, call us here – we’re always happy to provide assistance.
  3. We’ve got to work together. Credit unions of various sizes have different operational challenges of course … and the competitive landscape is different than in years past. But the opportunity to be successful (perhaps even viable?) in the future lies primarily in our ability to close ranks and say to the world, “We may be many credit unions, but we are one, united movement.”

Language matters. Despite the assurances of the treasury secretary, anyone reading what the proposal actually says should be concerned for the credit union movement. But this is also true: information is currency, and our stories in this context make us fabulously wealthy. No matter the outcome of the Paulson Plan, I believe both our individual and collective dedication to sharing the credit union difference will determine the fate of the credit union system.    

What do you think?

Community Involvement As Brand Building: A Conversation with SECU’s Jim Blaine

One of the things that has always impressed me about State Employees’ Credit Union is that from the standpoint of member service and culture, the credit union acts like a tiny shop. As most people know, SECU is instead one of the largest credit unions in the world, holding more than $15 billion in assets.

This culture of service and absolute dedication to the cooperative philosophy shines through in the credit union, from the membership at the grassroots all the way up the chain through its board and senior management.

Many of the ideas and much of the credit union passion that you might hear from the CEO of a small shop shine through in the few moments I got to spend with SECU CEO Jim Blaine. Jim graciously spent some time with me to reflect on the Herb Wegner Award the SECU Foundation received as the outstanding credit union organization.  

The SECU Foundation has only been around a few short years, but it has already left a tremendous footprint across all 100 counties in NC. The video interview focuses on the Foundation’s scholarship program, which has awarded scholarships to one student in every NC public high school for the past three years or so.

The Foundation has also embarked on some other outstanding projects that are making an impact in NC. Some of these projects are summarized in the video presentation below that we got to see at the Herb Wegner Awards in Washington, DC last week.

The leadership of the credit union views these activities as its advertising campaign. From my vantage point, I’d have to say that it’s clearly working. Every week when the newspaper clippings arrive in the mail, the activities of the credit union and its foundation get consistent mention in papers of all sizes.

The scholarship winners, which are generally pictured with a local SECU representative, get mentioned the most in papers across the State. At the same time, and I don’t have hard stats to back this up — I’d say clearly the newspapers and other media outlets have become much more likely to pick up press releases that come from the credit union over the past couple of years.  

As the notion of a national branding campaign continues to get kicked around, the SECU Foundation has put together an impressive narrative that suggests that collective philanthropy and community building will get the credit union movement a lot more mileage than a national advertising campaign.

What do you think?

Wednesday Morning Update – Our Trek to the Hill!

The 120 representatives of NC credit unions have really enjoyed their stay in Washington thus far – and today, the rubber meets the road! Late this morning, our group will head to the Capitol to meet with Senators Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr – these meetings will kick off our afternoon of visits with members of Congress from NC.

The group is anxious to meet with our elected officials and share their thoughts about credit union regulatory relief. I think our elected leaders also appreciate it when they get the opportunity to meet with “real folks” from back home as well.

In addition to reg relief, the group will be sharing how NC credit unions are returning value to their members and boosting the NC economy. Included in this will be the stories of a few NC credit unions that made year-end dividends and rebates. Combined, these credit unions put more than $750,000 back into the hands of members – many of whom live in small towns in NC that are struggling economically!

Much more to come on our day in DC on the Hill. In the meantime a few pictures are posted on Flickr. Click here to view them in a slide show. Much more to come!