Mica Reflects On His Decade At The Helm Of CUNA

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WASHINGTON - It isn't just the Credit Union Journal marking a 10th anniversary. This newspaper started landing on the desks of credit union CEOs not long after a former congressman was first sliding behind the CEO's desk at CUNA.

In this case, it wasn't just the new business that was the risky proposition; the then 60-year-old trade group also had its own set of challenges.

"When I arrived 10 years ago, CUNA was in severe financial and managerial straits related to the credit card portfolio we had at the time," Mica related. "In my first month, my staff came to me and told me 'we will not be able to make our payroll if we don't sell quickly.' It was a very hectic first six months. Then we sold the portfolio, and on the day we were to celebrate, the courts ruled against us [in the landmark field of membership lawsuit] and so we never did have that celebration."

Coming From The Outside

Coming to CUNA from outside the credit union movement-though he'd been a member of a credit union prior to taking the helm at the trade association-Mica didn't know exactly what to expect of his time at CUNA, including how long it would last.

"There were a number of people who said to me, 'I expect you'll stay for a few years and then move on to greener pastures,' and I knew it was possible that might be the case. I didn't think I'd be here 10 years," Mica recalled.

"But then I got into it, and I loved it. I'm doing something I believe in, so I enjoy coming into work every day, and that is a blessing."

Mica said CUNA has come a long way politically compared to where they were a decade ago, noting that politicians routinely point to CUNA as an example of how to get things done on Capitol Hill.

Challenges Ahead

But as far as CUNA and credit unions have come, there are still challenges ahead. "Limitations on field of membership, limitations on capital. We still haven't achieved parity with other financial institutions about what we can and should do for Americans," Mica observed. "I made an assessment at my first GAC that credit unions were a mile wide and an inch deep. We've made a lot of progress, but there's still a ways to go. I guess I'd say today we are a mile wide and hundreds of feet deep."

When asked of what he is most proud, it was too much of a struggle to name just one thing, so Mica offered multiple answers: the great staff assembled at CUNA, the victory in HR 1151 and Credit Union House were all toward the top of his list.

"If we hadn't achieved [passage of HR 1151], the credit union system would be gone by now or on its way out," he commented.

But there is a more personal thing of which he is proud, as well. "I have outlasted any other CUNA president. Every single president has been fired," Mica said, noting he certainly hopes to break that streak. "I have a very supportive board. They have given me all the leeway I need-and some would say they've given me just enough rope to hang myself."

What does the future hold?

"I'd like to see us be so strong that bankers ultimately say, 'they've got 100 million members, we need to stop fighting and start working together to serve American consumers,'" Mica said. "And I believe I have seen a crack in the door that some bankers are beginning to feel that way. We've gotten halfway there in the last 10 years."

Through all the ups and downs of Mica's 10 years at CUNA, one thing has always stayed the same. "The one constant is the tremendous good will of the credit union movement," Mica offered. "You cannot find nicer people, more dedicated people, who really believe in people helping people and really do what they say they will do and do so much for their communities."

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