New Hand At CUs Wants To Tap Power

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Rodney Hood is a bundle of energy and he wants to channel it into the credit union movement.

The 38-year-old NCUA Board neophyte has seen the power of credit unions in facilitating community development and he wants to help foster that.

And he wants the important policymakers on Capitol Hill to know about it, lest they harbor any doubts about credit unions meeting their mission of serving the underserved-something that was expressed during last month's congressional hearings on the credit union tax exemption.

He wants to expand credit union partnerships: with other institutions, with government agencies; and even with the banks.

And the new NCUA Board member wants to help lower the antagonism between credit unions and banks, something he sees as a waste of energy. He believes the two parties can work together-as they have on many occasions-to benefit the communities they both serve. Hood even plans to speak to a group of North Carolina bankers and thrift executives-who have emerged among the most avid credit union opponents-next year, to try to reduce the stress level between the traditional antagonists.

Reaching Out To Banks

"I'm hoping to ameliorate the bank-credit union enmity in any way I can," said Hood in an interview with The Credit Union Journal in his office last week. "By working on partnerships, we can work together to provide much-needed financial resources to people who need access to capital."

To that end, the Charlotte, N.C., native, who worked for several years in community development banking in his hometown, has already been talking to the North Carolina Banking Alliance and plans to speak before a gathering of the long-time credit union foe, which was front and center in the landmark AT&T Family FCU suit.

Hood, who still flies home every weekend despite working in Washington the last two years, is an ardent believer in community development banking.

He was first introduced to concepts of serving the underserved and community empowerment, he said, while working as a missionary in the east African countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe after graduating from the University of North Carolina.

"It was very humbling, and at the same time very educational, for me to see everyday working people struggling to make ends meet," said Hood. "I believe by virtue of working in this office I will have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, by making financial resources more readily available to them."

Hood, who remains active in his hometown church (he won't say which one), has brought that missionary zeal to his work in financial services, first as a banker, now as a regulator.

Upon his return from missionary work, Hood decided to enter the financial services industry. His first job was as a management trainee for GE Capital in North Carolina. Then he went to work as a commercial loan officer for NCNB, one of the banks that would eventually be merged to become Bank of America. At NCNB-where he sometimes worked with the legendary Hugh McColl, the man who fashioned the regional bank into a national powerhouse-Hood eventually became a Community Reinvestment Act officer. That job included working on low-income housing tax credits, affordable housing projects and partnering with non-profits, like the the Urban League, Habitat for Humanity and the NAACP.

After NCNB, which by then had become NationsBank, Hood went to work for Wells Fargo, where he helped create the banking giant's community development loan division. He served on the board of the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, which partners with non-profit organizations to help finance affordable housing projects. "Working with these type of organizations really drove home for me the meaning of community development and community empowerment," said Hood.

From Wells Fargo, Hood went to work for the Durham, N.C.-based North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co., the nation's oldest African-American-owned insurance company.

Then, in 2004 he was asked to join the Bush administration in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he ended up managing the Ag Department's rural housing services, a little known operation that is the largest direct lender of loans in the federal government with a $40 billion loan portfolio.

All of these experiences have fed Hood's passion about expanding financial opportunities in rural and underserved communities.

He plans to bring this passion and experience to bear at NCUA. One of the things he wants to do is to get credit unions to partner more with some of the groups he has worked with in the past. That strategy will be the focus of his work at NCUA, said Hood, who was named as NCUA's representative on the board of the non-profit NeighorWorks, which helps develop affordable housing projects around the country in conjunction with lenders and community groups.

Opportunities At Federal Level

Among other things, Hood wants to educate credit unions on the opportunities available at various federal agencies, specifically in the area of loan guarantees. Federal agencies like the Small Business Administration, the Veterans Administration, the Federal Housing Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Agriculture-all of which have loan guarantee programs for which credit unions are eligible.

These kind of government-backed programs mitigate risk for credit unions and free up more capital for other productive purposes, Hood pointed out. "I want to make sure we use them and that credit unions know about them," he said.

Hood would like to marry his passion for community development works with the passion he sees among the credit union faithful. He observed this passion in person with his first trip as NCUA Board member to Mississippi. There he met with about 100 credit union executives and visited HOPE Community FCU, one of the fastest-growing community development credit unions, which is deeply involved in the rebuilding of areas destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

"The credit union industry is filled with the most passionate people," said Hood. "The people who work at credit unions are not just there for the jobs, but because they have core beliefs in serving the community. They have a mindset, a purpose.

"Credit unions are changing lives, they're helping people. I've seen it firsthand. They're just so pivotal to our society."

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