CUJ Q&A

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Odd the things you can find in a supermarket. In the case of Jim McCormack, president of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, it was credit unions. He would eventually go on to join CUNA Mutual Group for seven years, before taking over at PCUA.

CUJ: How did you get your start?

McCormack: Well, I started in the movement as a volunteer 34 years ago. I worked for a supermarket and went into a credit union for a car loan when a young woman who ran the credit union half jokingly suggested that I join the supervisory board.

CUJ: Is where you are today what you envisioned?

McCormack: Not really. During the early 70s, I got put on a fast track with credit unions. My true love at the time was that I wanted to live in New York City and work in the area of merchandising. But I got so caught up in the credit union philosophy that I never left.

CUJ: Tell us about The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and its members?

McCormack: It's a very diverse group. As you know, we have the largest number of credit unions in the nation. Half in the Commonwealth have fewer than $7 million in assets. On the other side, we have some of the larger and most progressive credit unions in the country.

CUJ: How long have you been at the helm?

McCormack: I've been at the league and the association for 24 years, 14 as CEO. I started in the early 1980s as the controller and league services manager. My true background is the business side. When they (association officials) did a national search for a CEO back in 1991, I was a senior VP. For my good luck and with the help of some very good people, they chose me as their CEO in early 1992.

CUJ: What's the toughest part of a league CEO's job?

McCormack: The toughest part is achieving consensus. I think that all of the 650 in our group would agree that advocacy, regulatory compliance and public relations are our strengths and that we need those functions. That's the core competency of any trade association. The tough part is the offering of those services. Needs are quite different for the billion-dollar shops and the $10 to $15 million shops. Trying to market for all of them can be a challenge.

CUJ: What's most rewarding about the work you do?

McCormack: The rewards in our movement come from being consumer driven-the financial literacy programs, the alternatives to payday lenders, helping the working class, the middle class and the underserved achieve independence. It's rewarding to see programs initiated that consumers are going to benefit from. It goes along with the movement's people-helping- people philosophy.

CUJ: How has leading a credit union league changed over the years?

McCormack: It's changed significantly from the 70s and the 80s. In those days, the primary mission was to organize credit unions and provide operational assistance. Right now, it's trying to achieve consensus and provide leadership with the board. Also, working on areas of advocacy, regulatory compliance and communications and public relations projects that might not benefit a credit union immediately but positively affect them.

CUJ: How do you balance the interests of large and small credit unions?

McCormack: There is general agreement that we represent them all well. Indeed, in the services-education, for example-we have different fee-based services for needs that are substantially different. I think we have achieved a balance by representing all on a trade association side. With our large number of small credit unions, we've been very cognizant of their needs. We offer small credit union workshops and have the largest credit union health insurance trust in the country. Without it, credit unions with 20 or fewer employees would pay much higher rates. We also provide auditing for credit unions with fewer than $50 million in assets.

CUJ: How do you stay in touch with the many small credit unions in Pennsylvania?

McCormack: I do spend a lot of time on the road personally visiting credit unions in their shops. I go to 40 to 45 credit unions a year, not only the small ones. These are quality meetings where I get to see them at work. Some are in big, beautiful buildings while others are in someone's dining room. It's important to me to visit credit unions of all sizes, asking questions and listening. (We also communicate via) a daily e-mail publication called Life is a Highway.

CUJ: How often do they get to meet with the PCUA?

McCormack: We have 24 active chapters in Pennsylvania. Plus, like any other state association, we offer a variety of meeting and networking opportunities where board and management get to interact with CU officials.

CUJ: What do credit unions primarily want from their league?

McCormack: I think they are looking for leadership through the board and management in the areas of advocacy, public relations and communications and compliance and regulatory oversight. Credit unions of any size would agree. Surveys have shown that's what they look for.

CUJ: What is your view on charter conversions?

McCormack: Our board just came out with a policy statement on conversions. Essentially, it says while we recognize that the membership is free to choose the financial charter of choice, we strongly believe in full disclosures. We're very cognizant of what's going on around the country and think that full and fair disclosure is the key. We also need to make sure the CU charter remains viable through stuff like CURIA lowering capital needs. Keeping the CU charter vibrant is important.

CUJ: Are there any lessons you've had to learn the hard way?

McCormack: The one that the whole big movement has learned the hard way has to do with political involvement. In the 90s, it was not on anyone's radar screen. And then came the increased banker attacks. We were the ones with the white hats when the Supreme Court ruling hit us. All of my colleagues in the mid 1990s were very na?ve about political involvement. But, we stepped it up in Pennsylvania and around the country and know now that we can't take for granted that everybody understands our unique, not-for-profit need and mission.

CUJ: What's does the future look like for CUs in Pennsylvania?

McCormack: To nobody's surprise, more consolidation. The good news is that those left standing will survive. There will be two types, one is the answer to a community financial instutition-active in the community, owned locally and being involved in such things as small business services. Then, there will be the niche players, the boutiques, not trying to be everything to everyone. In most cases, they will be smaller but fit specific needs.

CUJ: What will the league's role be then?

McCormack: That's really not going to change our techniques, guidance, leadership and networking opportunities. We will continue ensuring that our credit unions can operate in a positive environment.

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