Plenty To Choose From In 06, And Challenges In 07
What did CUNA achieve for credit unions in the year now ending? Plenty. Here, in no particular order of importance, is a look back at some accomplishments for the year:
* We successfully challenged bankers' hopes of expanding business lending powers for the thrift industry, pointing out that doing so would create a significant imbalance between the thrift and credit union charters-unless some expansion for credit union powers were also considered (it was not). Nevertheless, our action laid down a marker for future legislative action, particularly in the 110th Congress. That is: Bank charter expansion must be agreeable to (or provide parity for) credit unions before it can go further. In the new Congress, with slim majorities, the name of the game will be "deal with your adversaries and find agreement-or expect nothing."
* We achieved national recognition for credit union "service to the underserved" in a sophisticated outreach to the national press aimed at illustrating the real things that credit unions do to help members. For example, a story appearing on the front page of the Sept. 20 USA Today "Money" section focused on the efforts credit unions are making to offer their members an alternative to payday lenders. The story was headlined: "Breaking the cycle of payday loan 'trap'; Credit Unions offer cheaper alternatives."
* We raised political involvement to new levels. CUNA's PAC, the Credit Union Legislative Action Committee (CULAC) smashed all of its previous records by contributing a record $2.89 million to candidate committees, leadership PACs and party committees in the 2005-06 election cycle, placing CULAC among the top 10 federal PACs nationally. This includes a record $2.4 million directly to candidate committees. Further, as a result of a long-time bipartisan approach to political contributions, credit unions are well-positioned to deal with the new ruling majority in both the Senate and House. For the 110th Congress: CULAC contributed a higher percentage of its overall funds to the incoming majority Democrats (44%) than any of the banking trade groups, specifically: the ABA (31%), ACB (37%) or ICBA (28%).
* We finalized the "Credit Union System National Disaster Preparedness Plan," the result of a year's worth of work, and a first for the industry. As the only comprehensive plan for all segments of the credit union movement to refer to in dealing with a major disaster, catastrophe or emergency, the Disaster Preparedness Plan focuses on the real needs of credit unions and their staffs in an emergency. The ultimate goal: Ensure that the credit union is up and operational for the members when a disaster strikes. For example: A key element of the plan is the "Credit Union National Emergency Information System," (CUNEIS), which promotes a single, national toll-free number to help credit union members determine the status of their credit union in the face of a disaster, and offers the media a central information clearinghouse so that updates on conditions of local credit unions can be quickly disseminated.
* We reinforced our commitment to financial literacy by hosting the first-ever National Financial Literacy Summit (bringing together the many voices on financial literacy into one room), and developing programs, with credit unions, to teach the value of thrift to the nation's youth. For example, our National Youth Savings Challenges, held as part of National Credit Union Youth Week in April, energized more than 66,000 youngsters across the nation to save nearly $10 million in one week-all in the name of learning the value of saving.
Certainly there was more, including: passage of Regulatory Relief legislation, containing significant credit union provisions; continued growth of support for the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act (CURIA), setting the stage for more support in the new Congress; analysis of data and preparation of significant materials in advance for use by leagues and credit unions in response to release of NCUA data collection pilot, and subsequent report by the Government Accountability Office, on CU service to their members
So what is ahead? Plenty. Here is what we call our "Seven for 07." It is not an exhaustive list, but more of a combination of items that have been high on our agenda of "must dos" for the New Year:
* Defend vigilantly the not-for-profit principles of consumer-owned, volunteer-led, democratically run credit unions-including the tax considerations that they have earned-against onslaughts by the for-profit banking industry. An important element, we believe, is to "change the conversation" on Capitol Hill, so that lawmakers and policymakers talk about the great things credit unions do, rather than what banks want credit unions to stop doing.
* Empower people from all walks of life through access to affordable financial services offered by credit unions, particularly those in underserved areas that have been shut out of credit union membership through banker lawsuits.
* Ensure consumers, especially our nation's youth, have at least a basic grounding in financial literacy.
* Energize and build confidence of small business through reasonable access to affordable capital, such as through credit unions.
* Safeguard and secure members' financial information.
* Provide lower-income Americans an affordable means of financing their first home.
* Serve as a lower-priced alternative for consumers to payday lenders and other predatory lenders.
What should credit unions expect from their national trade association? Once again: plenty. And, if I may be succinct: They will get it, too.
Dan Mica is president of CUNA. He can be reached at 202-638-5777.