Top trade group exec defects from ICBA to CUNA

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The Credit Union National Association tapped an unusual source in hiring a marketing professional to manage its multimillion-dollar “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union” digital marketing campaign: The C-suite at the Independent Community Bankers of America.

Chris Lorence, ICBA’s chief marketing officer since 2003, is moving across town to CUNA, where he’ll serve as chief credit union awareness officer. Both groups are headquartered in Washington.

On one level, hiring Lorence seems a no-brainer. Digital marketing was his focus at ICBA, and both Forbes and Social Media Marketing recognized him for his professional acumen.

At the same time, banks and credit unions have spent decades sniping at each other, with the credit union industry’s exemption from federal income taxes the primary bone of contention. ICBA went so far as to sue the industry’s federal regulator, the National Credit Union Administration, in September 2016 over revisions it made to its member business lending rule.

Lorence is hardly the first executive from a banking trade group to defect to the credit union side. Charles Zuver, who served as senior legislative counsel at the American Bankers Association, joined CUNA as head of its Washington office. That was in 1987, though, a much less contentious era in bank-credit union relations, said Geoff Bacino, a credit union consultant who lobbied for CUNA before being appointed to the NCUA’s governing board in 2001 and later to the Federal Housing Finance Board.

“There was cooperation, even among the rival trade groups,” Bacino said. “We were able to get along. That doesn’t happen anymore. Now, if we say yellow, the banks say green. If we say left, they say right.”

More recently, in 2015, CUNA hired Elizabeth Eurgubian, who was serving as vice president and senior regulatory counsel at ICBA, as its deputy chief advocacy officer. Last year, CUNA brought aboard Alexander Moterrubio, a former staffer at the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, a rival credit union trade group, as senior director of advocacy and counsel.

Lorence is not a lobbyist or lawyer. He’s a marketer, and he is taking a job that entails leading a promotional campaign that was recently assailed by none other than his former boss, ICBA President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey.

In a July 11 contribution to ICBA’s Main Street Matters blog, Rainey took aim at CUNA’s goal of raising $100 million for “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union.”

“I guess buying up stadium naming rights isn’t cutting it anymore,” Rainey wrote.

A CUNA spokeswoman acknowledged in an email that banks and credit unions “have different perspectives on some issues,” but she added that the industries also “share a mission to provide communities with banking options that are more personable and financially affordable than megabanks.”

Lorence, who began his career working at two credit unions before joining ICBA in 1999, said the chance to lead a major marketing campaign was too good to pass up.

“As a marketer and storyteller, the opportunity to lead a powerful research-based national campaign for our nation’s credit unions aligns perfectly with my experience, values and passion,” he said in a Wednesday press release. “There is tremendous opportunity for membership growth and relationship development by elevating consumer consideration and connecting to those seeking a true financial partnership.”

An ICBA spokeswoman said the group “wishes Chris well in his future endeavors.”

The “Open Your Eyes” campaign aims to educate consumers about the value credit unions offer. While CUNA hopes to extend its reach nationwide, it’s currently live in just four states: Minnesota, Michigan, North Carolina and South Carolina. CUNA is nearing the end of the first year in a three-year push to raise $100 million to promote the initiative.

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Credit unions C-suite Digital marketing Community banking CUNA ICBA Washington DC