A Credit Union’s Performance Depends Upon Its Leaders

Fred Johnson, President/CEO CUESby: Fred Johnson, President/CEO Credit Union Executives Society (CUES)

Credit union director education was a passion for me well before I became CEO of the Credit Union Executives Society in 1989. I was a director of West Point Federal Credit Union and saw first-hand the power of board members to influence a credit union’s strategic direction as well as its safety and soundness.

Education can’t be restricted to the first year of service on the board! Directors who believe decades of service history can prepare them for challenges of the future are a well-intentioned risk to themselves, fellow directors, the credit union and – potentially – to members’ life savings. We just need to look at the growth in enrollment at community colleges and other post-secondary schools to see that in challenging times, education is an imperative.

CUES was formed in 1962 to educate executives. Visionary executives told my predecessor that – no matter how strategic and intelligent the CEO – it takes strong and informed board leadership for credit unions to thrive. So in 1985 and 1987, respectively, we began offering meetings and membership to directors. In 1996 we established the Directors Leadership Institute, and in 2010 we established the Center for Credit Union Board Excellence, www.myccube.org so directors and committee members can learn what they need to know at any time from anywhere.

Earlier this year, director education recently received added focus due to the National Credit Union Administration’s financial literacy requirement. While CUES and our Center for Credit Union Board Excellence makes a credit union director financial literacy available at no charge to all CUs, http://www.cues.org/value-of-membership/cues-director-membership my observation is that the strongest boards already had education in place. Compliance was not their motivation; service to members was their catalyst.

Just this week, I received a letter from former CUES Board member. In his letter he reflected on CUES soon-to-be 50th anniversary and wrote:

As to my thoughts and concerns for the future of credit unions… By far the greatest weakness I see in credit unions in general is the haphazard way they fill vacancies on their Boards. A weak, uninformed and sometimes self-serving Board is a huge vulnerability and also a huge risk of misbehavior by its President and Senior Management. The bigger the credit union, the more dangerous the potential harm of both accidental and intentional mishaps. A super-strong Board and Supervisory Committee are absolutely essential.

Last year, CUES funded a study of credit union directors and CEOs conducted by the Filene Research Institute and the University of Toronto’s Clarkson Centre for Board Effectiveness. It found that CEOs welcome boards that question their assumptions.

The report is found here is available to anyone who wishes to read it. http://www.cues.org/memberresources/whitepapers-and-podcasts/view/id/39

Among the recommendations in the report is this: “One way to encourage better governance is to demand individual improvement. Surveyed directors who ranked their boards in the top decile of governance performance all had formal continuing-education policies, while those in the lowest decile rarely did.”

What I learned as a board member at West Point Federal Credit Union has only been reinforced by my 22 years at CUES: A credit union’s performance depends upon its leaders—both on the staff and on the board. 2012 budget time is approaching, and it is my hope the board education line item in the budget receives the same attention as the credit union’s other investments.

The Credit Union Executives Society is a Madison, Wisconsin-based, independent, not-for-profit, international membership association for credit union executives. CUES’ mission is to educate and develop credit union CEOs, directors and future leaders. www.CUES.org

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson

Fred Johnson is president/CEO of CUES, a Madison, Wisconsin-based, independent, not-for-profit, international membership association for credit union executives. CUES’ mission is to educate and develop credit union CEOs, directors ... Web: www.cues.org Details