by: Dr. Anthony L. Emerson, DBA, CCUE, C.P.M., President/CEO, The Credit Union League of Connecticut
All credit unions are not-for-profit, member-owned financial institutions, but what credit unions look like individually and how we do business are as diverse as our numbers. Credit unions come in all sizes, with different branding strategies or market identities. Credit unions offer different products, services, and rates, and we offer varying levels of accessibility. With all of these variances, we can be very different operationally.
Beyond the not-for-profit, member-owned status we all have in common, there is another major interest we share, and should be concerned with: government affairs and political advocacy. If a credit union were an animate body, governmental affairs would be analogous to an antibody that protects it from illness. Because of this, governmental affairs and political advocacy should logically be included in all strategic plans and should be given the same attention and priority as any other important operational strategy or initiative.
In my position as a league president, I am involved in political advocacy efforts and activities on a daily basis. From my vantage point and because of my extensive activity in this arena, I am aware of just how important constant, public political activity is to our industry and its long-term survival. Political advocacy is certainly not an optional activity, and not something that can be done part-time. Yes, we must be strategic about the way we are involved, but choosing not to be involved and support our governmental affairs initiatives could lead to the diminution or extinction of our movement. In regard to political advocacy, Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.” I believe this notion is not only applicable today, but more important than ever in today’s topsy-turvy political climate. We have all seen what can happen when a rogue lawmaker is able to enact legislation that is detrimental to our industry.
I can’t imagine any credit union allowing a competitor to come into its board room annually to conduct its strategic planning sessions, and be allowed to set the agenda and state the desired goals for the upcoming year. However, when we fail to involve ourselves in our movement’s political advocacy activities, this is exactly what we are doing. Jack Welch, former President/CEO and Chairman of the Board of General Electric, has frequently been quoted – and often cited by lobbyists — as saying, “You must control your own destiny or someone else will.” If we do not get involved personally with our credit unions, our leagues, and our national trade association, we are doing just that! We are giving up control of our agenda to others, and thereby ceding control of our destiny.
When conducting strategic planning sessions, we most often concentrate on the following areas: growth strategies, products and services, the economy, expense controls, and income opportunities. I would suggest that we add government affairs to that list. I am not suggesting that all credit union planning sessions currently are devoid of any mention of political advocacy. Most references are to the activities, such as making political contributions, of leagues and national trade associations, but few contain elements that are specific to the actions of the individual credit union. Not all contributions to legislative activities have to be in terms of dollars either. Credit unions can do a range of things that include attending political events, writing letters, making calls, and informing their members of legislation that may affect the way they are able to do business. As managers of organizations, we are all aware that what does not get prioritized doesn’t get done.
During a recent strategic planning session that I was facilitating, the board chair inquired about the status of member business lending legislation. A vibrant discussion ensued regarding the impact of the proposed legislation in general, and in particular, on the credit union itself. Out of this discussion came the creation of a government affairs initiative that contained elements of support, funding, and delineated goals. The board will now include legislative advocacy in its strategic plan, along with its traditional goals involving member growth, income and expenses, marketing, HR and the like. Part of this initiative is the permanent inclusion in future board meetings of a review of government affairs and credit union political pertinent issues.
As Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs illustrates, basic physiological needs must be met before human beings can progress to the next level of their growth potential. I would suggest that if there were a Hierarchy of Needs for credit unions, government affairs would be a basic physiological need that must be met for us to continue to grow as a movement and fulfill our mission to our members to an optimal degree. Just as every good meal begins with a good recipe, so do our strategic plans and political endeavors. If we fail to concentrate on and invest in political advocacy, we are acting on strategic plans that contain “missing ingredients.”
Someone once said, “Government relations is a test of how to manage frustration.” We can all vouch for the accuracy of this statement. Within our industry, there are many different opinions regarding specific legislation, contributions, and/or candidates. However, one thing we must have in common is our ability to affect the passage of legislation for the betterment of our movement. This involvement begins in our board rooms by developing, documenting and implementing strategies in conjunction with our leagues and our national trade associations. Whether affiliated with a league or national trade association or not, every credit union owes its existence to an effective government affairs program.
Anthony L. Emerson, DBA, CCUE, C.P.M. has been the President/CEO of The Credit Union League of Connecticut since March of 2008. Prior to coming to Connecticut, Dr. Emerson served as the Vice President of Finance/Accounting/Operations for Maine Savings FCU in Hampden, Maine from 2003-2008. Anthony has earned degrees in Contract Law, Logistics Management, Accounting, Master of Business Administration, and a Doctorate in International Business, as well as being a graduate of The Academy of Military Science (with high honors). For the past five years, in addition to his credit union responsibilities, he has consulted on business strategy and strategic management extensively. He has been published numerous times in various publications on topics that include: strategic management, member service, the service-profit chain, employee empowerment, cooperative financing models, service standard metrics, and a variety of other business related topics. In addition, his dissertation, “The Effects of Employee Satisfaction and Customer Retention on Corporate Profitability: An Analysis of the Service-Profit Chain” received high honors and has been published on a subject matter basis. www.culct.coop