PSECU Hires Ex-Hill Staffer To Raise Its Political Visibility

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When it comes to politics, one credit union here has decided to step up to the plate and not wait for the kill-or-be-killed scenario going on in Utah to make its way to this state.

"It's impossible nowadays to avoid the political issues," said Greg Smith, CEO of PSECU. "We simply have to be involved."

To that end, PSECU has hired a public relations manager whose job it will be to increase the credit union's political visibility and develop and maintain relationships with state and federal lawmakers.

Nate Muniz, who came to PSECU after having worked as a Capitol Hill staffer for U.S. Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA), was a perfect fit for the job, Smith said. "He was in D.C. when we recruited him," he noted. "He has access to those people, and he also knows his way around the Harrisburg scene. We just have to be more politically aware and involved."

Both Smith and Muniz said there have been no indications that the bankers in Pennsylvania are planning an attack on credit unions as has happened in other states, but Smith said that's exactly why now was the time to hire someone to take on a political role: to be proactive instead of reactive.

"The attacks by the banks certainly have our attention," Smith told The Credit Union Journal. "If we ever have the need to become politically active, I'd rather be proactive."

Although this will be Muniz' first job in credit unions, it's not the first he's head of them. "I had some experience with them in D.C., where I worked on financial services issues, so I was very much aware of the antagonism banks have toward credit unions," Muniz explained. "I was familiar with the issues, I was familiar with CURIA. I liked the credit union philosophy."

Even with that knowledge under his belt, Muniz has learned a few things since signing on with PSECU.

"One of the things I've learned since coming here is that credit union really walk the walk," he told The Credit Union Journal. "Since I've been here, I have seen how the people who work at credit unions really are dedicated to their members. And they really believe in the credit union difference, the credit union philosophy. That was refreshing after coming from the Hill where no one really believes in anything."

Both Muniz and Smith were careful to point out that PSECU's newfound enthusiasm for political advocacy isn't intended to "replace" what the national trade associations are already doing but rather complement those efforts.

And indeed, PSECU's political strategy will be developed in a "thoughtful, slow and steady" manner, not an aggressive ramping up of political might, they added.

"We want to start by raising our name recognition," Muniz offered. As the credit union that serves state employees in Pennsylvania, name recognition isn't so much of a problem at the state house, he noted, so PSECU went to Washington in January and met with about two-thirds of Pennsylvania's delegation.

"We talked about who we were and gave them a small amount of reading material. This is getting our name out there, and hopefully they'll look to us as a resource on any question pertaining to credit unions," he said.

When Muniz isn't working on PSECU's visibility in the halls of Congress, he'll be walking other halls. Dividing his time between politics and public relations, part of Muniz' job is to teach the basics of personal finance at local schools.

"Most of what we're trying to teach is common sense financial literacy. It's stuff every person should know," he commented. "I didn't have to take any classes, since I already knew most of this stuff, but I did do lots of reading to make sure I'd be able to teach it to others."

And hiring Muniz was just common sense politics, Smith said, offering some advice to other credit unions thinking about whether they should become more politically active. "What I would tell them is, if we ever have an issue in front of us, would you rather be reacting or already have a plan in place," Smith said. "You don't wait for a disaster to happen before putting a disaster plan in place. It's a whole lot easier to get your plan together when you don't have a crisis."

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