Old-Hand At Credit Unions, Hyland, 'Brings No Agenda'

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If anyone was ever groomed to serve on the NCUA Board it's Gigi Hyland.

You could say that credit unions run in the family of the 40-year-old Hyland, who was sworn in last month to fill out the three-member panel overseeing the federal credit union regulator.

The family ties to the credit union movement go way back.

Hyland's father, Gerald "Gerry" Hyland, was involved in writing legislation that created NCUA as an independent agency when he worked for CUNA in 1970.

Later on when she graduated from law school at nearby George Mason University, Gigi, whose formal name is Christiane, managed her father's and mother's law practice, which specialized in credit union work. The family home was about seven miles from NCUA's current headquarters in suburban Virginia, where the agency moved a decade ago. In a lot of ways, Gigi Hyland is going home.

The Resume

In the interim, Hyland has undergone training as a Development Educator, the CUNA program which schools participants in the history and philosophy of the credit union movement; has headed the Association of Corporate CUs; served as a CUNA vice president, and, most recently, worked as general counsel for Empire Corporate FCU, in Albany, N.Y. That's where she cultivated her growing relationship with Chris Revere, the former lobbyist for the New York CU League, who she met during the 1998 campaign for HR 1151, the CU Membership Access Act. The two are now engaged.

"She's 100%, sort of, credit union. She has credit unions in her blood," said Steve Bisker, a long-time credit union attorney who knows both Hylands well.

As Hyland tells it, while she spent her formative years growing up around credit unions, her entry into the family business was not preordained.

"I got involved sort of haphazardly," she explained. "I graduated from law school and wanted to do international law. And I went overseas to an internship in a French law firm for about three months and realized that in order to do international law you had to come back here and work for an American firm first, and then they send you overseas. You had to do your time in the United States. And that was during the recession, in 1991, and not too many people were hiring in international law.

"And some family circumstances happened; my mom got real sick at that point in time, and my dad was in politics, and so I stepped into the family firm and ran it and managed it for about seven years," she added. The practice, known as Hyland and Hyland, was predominantly credit union related, providing advice on regulatory and compliance issues for northern Virginia credit unions.

In a neat twist, Hyland's father, as a member of the Fairfax (Virginia) County Board of Supervisors, swore his daughter in to the NCUA Board.

Hyland conceded her long-time credit union experience and ties, though beneficial in understanding the issues, could pose an appearance of conflicts, an issue that was raised during last month's confirmation hearings before the Senate Banking Committee. She said she is sensitive to that possibility and the need to maintain her independence as a regulator.

"I want to be remembered certainly as a fair and thoughtful regulator. But I'm not coming in with an agenda," said Hyland. "First and foremost, I want to hear what credit unions think are the big issues; what are the regulatory issues that they are concerned about? And then from there, react to them and approach them with an air that is deliberate and conscious of all stakeholders' interests, and be fair in deciding whatever it is that needs to be decided, whether it be new regulations or other issues affecting credit unions, from a safety and soundness standpoint."

She sees her legal training as a groundwork for maintaining an arm's length from the industry she represented for so many years.

"My legal training, I think, serves me well; in being in private practice, in serving as in-house counsel for Empire Corporate, my primary duty as a lawyer is to exercise independent judgment on the facts that I see in representing my client. Obviously, in representing a client you're zealously representing they're particular interests, but you're still required to assess all of the facts that you see from a 360-degree view and exercise independent judgment about how the law applies to those sets of facts and the likelihood of your client's success or lack of success in whatever course of action they're going to take. So I think that will serve me very well."

'The Charge of NCUA'

"Am I passionate about credit union," she asked. "Absolutely. Do I believe that credit unions should be a continuing force in the financial services industry? Absolutely. But I believe that the charge of NCUA is to foster credit unions and to ensure their safety and soundness, and that is right up my alley in terms of balancing that passion for credit unions with a lawyer's ability to assess the facts and deliberatively come to conclusions that are as win-win as possible for the affected stakeholders."

As a new NCUA board member, Hyland said she believes one of NCUA's roles is to help cultivate the movement, but she is still trying to decide to what extent.

"Remember, I'm a new regulator," she said. "But I do think NCUA does have a charge to assure that credit unions continue to thrive. And I think that goes to the mechanism of safety and soundness; the mechanism of balancing the appropriate regulation for credit unions to make sure that they're safe and sound, with not overburdening them with regulations so they're restricted from being nimble in a financial services environment that is changing every day."

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