Erosion Of Unity Is What Keeps CEO Up At Night

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SAN ANTONIO-Just as the Federal Reserve's final rule on interchange came out, CUNA Board Chair Harriet May was ready to remind a certain Illinois senator of his promise.

"Sen. [Richard] Durbin said on record if this bill does not work for small issuers he will personally step in and fix it," she said at CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference here just before the Fed unveiled its rule. "And we are going to hold him to that."

May, who also is the president and CEO of GECU in El Paso, Texas, said debit card programs have been "very good" to her credit union and its members.

"I am very interested to see the final rule. The staff at CUNA gave everything they had 24/7 to get the Durbin amendment overturned, and we got a majority in the U.S. Senate, but only in the Senate is a majority not a majority."

What CUs should focus on, she added is 12 senators that originally voted for the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act moved to the other side. May said credit union grass roots efforts were critical in reaching out to lawmakers, and must continue every time there is a vote in Washington, D.C., that affects CUs.

"We must move forward because the challenges keep coming fast and furious," she assessed. "Perhaps the No. 1 challenge is staying relevant to our members. We know we should be the financial institution of choice, but we have to appeal to younger members because we cannot just rely on our tried and true members."

The ACUC conference book included a list of 10 trends CUs should be aware of. At No. 5 is a note that nearly 70% of non-members ages 18 to 24 are "not at all familiar" with credit unions.

According to May, the answer is increased outreach efforts to colleges, high schools and even elementary schools. "We can be there, and we can be the winners."

Unity Needed

One issue that keeps May awake at night is credit union unity. She insisted CUs must stand together and not just be focused on their bottom lines. "We must support issues we won't need today, but the next generation will," she said. "If all of us are together, we will win."

The CUNA board and staff have been working on developing a "new vision" for CUs to be the choice for American consumers. May said this means a "system vision" from everyone in the movement, not just her.

"We don't have a choice," she said. "We must identify who we are, where we are going and what has made these organizations great for the last 100 years. Credit unions put a premium on community involvement, financial literacy and giving. We are the No. 3 donor nationally to Children's Miracle Network hospitals.

"We will be American consumers' top choice," she declared.

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