You're Getting Sleepy, So Sleepy. Now, Just Sign This Here
Perhaps the biggest advantage that bad guys have in their sundry fights around the world is that it's just so darn tiring to be a good guy all the time.
Credit unions should certainly know that as well as anyone. The nation's banking industry first began moaning to legislators, press and the public about credit unions and the unfairness of the "unlevel playing field" back in the 1930s, and whomever is writing in this space in the 2030s will no doubt find them crying from the same song sheet. Over the decades, of course, the CU critics-none of whom ever seem to be going broke, by the way-have added new verses to fit the fear of the moment (credit unions are based on the communist model and are unAmerican, credit unions are the next savings and loan crisis, credit unions add to the federal deficit, etc.), keeping the nation's credit union movement on the defensive and forcing it to respond and rally and fundraise again and again and again. It all becomes so wearying.
Case in point is the surprise resignation of Utah League of Credit Unions' President Scott Earl. As is detailed in the story in this issue on page 1, and as was reported first by The Credit Union Journal in the Dec. 1 issue, being on the front lines is an adrenaline rush-at first. Which is maybe why the resignation shouldn't have been a surprise at all.
"You can only do battle for so long," Earl observed in the days after leaving the ULCU. "I've decided I've had it. My family and I can just take it for so long."
The only sound louder than the sighs of relief at the Earl household was the popping of champagne corks over at the Utah Bankers Association's offices in Salt Lake City. Military flying aces used to place some victorious symbol on their planes for every enemy plane shot down. I wonder if Utah's bankers hang something similar on the walls in their offices for every credit unionist they wear down or force out; perhaps little Edward Filene bobblehead dolls made to wear custom-fitted black hats, or photos of the Little Man under the Umbrella-without his umbrella.
For readers of The Credit Union Journal in the 49 other states, if you've read this far you may be thinking this doesn't apply to you and it's time to go re-read the cartoon. Think again. Just as Utah was the first sign of the banking industry's divide-and-conquer strategy ("We don't want to tax all credit unions, just the big conglomerate credit unions), the resignation by the league's president signals what many in other states must prepare for.
Those who have read Scott Earl's statements in this newspaper and others know he was among the most articulate in public forums in explaining and defending the credit union position and value to the state's citizens. Given the ULCU's success in heading off or scaling back a number of bank-backed limitations upon credit unions, clearly Mr. Earl was obviously just as effective and tireless in working privately with legislators, no small feat in a state in which Zion's Bank is deeply influential and one of its vice presidents is the Speaker of the House.
If you believe credit unions in your state have been under attack by banks, you are a Mogadishu to Utah's Baghdad. Bank attacks have come from the front and rear. It's tough to get out of bed every morning when you have to deal with that. This isn't like one of those battles between special interests in Washington in which "believers" can be rented with a retainer check, and can "believe" the opposite tomorrow. What makes this different and what wears down credit unionists is that this is an emotional fight, a fight from the heart. For banks, it's all "just business," and that's often heartless. For their retained lobbyists, it's just good personal financial business to keep the fight going.
That "business" has spread from Utah to at least 10 other states. At least 10 other league leaders will be in the same undermanned PT boat as Scott Earl; some already are. Credit unions have over the past five years waded deep into politics and many have discovered just how dirty the water is. The good and decent people eventually feel a strong desire to get out and take a bath; the rest seem more than content to keep throwing in more mud.
The mudthrowers are counting on you to fatigue and crumble. It's why they propose the "compromises," such as taxing larger credit unions. It's why you sometimes hear some within credit unions listening and even agreeing. But it's also why you never hear someone say, "I was tired, so I made a really good decision!"
* In this space several weeks ago I quoted an anonymous CEO for a keen observation related to those pushing credit unions toward and profiting from conversions to bank charters. The CEO said, "It's our fault (these people) have a niche. [Alan Theriault's] a canary in a coal mine. We've done a poor job of telling our members what we are and that they belong to something bigger than they are. He's telling us we need to do a better job." Although he graciously volunteered to let me take credit for that observation, it should rightly go to Gordon Hoeruf, president of Oregon Community Credit Union in Eugene, Ore.
Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann