Prior to joining my credit union, I spent 4 years on the other side of the conference room table as an NCUA examiner. [Insert examiner joke here]. Although that job wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows, I learned so much during that time that has helped me to be successful in my current role. Here are five things I learned as an examiner turned credit union CEO:
- “All credit unions are different credit unions”
I’m a big fan of Ted Lasso quotes. Once Coach Beard reminded him that he had said “All people are different people.” So it is with credit unions. We have different fields of membership, board members with different backgrounds, different membership and community needs, and different management styles. Our regulators shouldn’t use a “one size fits all” approach, and we shouldn’t be afraid to be unique and creative in how we serve our members.
- Risk management does not mean ensuring there is zero risk
According to the NCUA Examiner’s Guide, “Risk management involves understanding, analyzing, and mitigating risk to enable a credit union to achieve its objectives, while also managing risk in proportion to its ability to absorb potential losses.” Once again, all credit unions are different credit unions. We treat risk differently, but we take on risk to return a reward to our members. Most of the time the risk pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. As long as we operate safely and soundly, it is up to the board and management team at the credit union to decide and communicate our risk appetite, risk management philosophy, and control environment.
- Communication and transparency
I started working for NCUA in 2010 as we were still dealing with the effects of the Great Recession. NCUA and other regulatory agencies were playing catch up on issuing guidance on how to deal with unprecedented conditions. In 2010 alone, NCUA issued 47 Letters to Credit Unions and Regulatory Alerts. Sometimes I would get a call from a credit union asking about new guidance that I hadn’t even heard about. With some feedback, NCUA decided they should give examiners a heads-up when sending out new guidance. Open communication was also vital during exams with the management team, supervisory committee, and board members. I use that same standard as I communicate with my team, board members, and regulators.
- Cooperation among cooperatives
I experienced the principle of “cooperation among cooperatives” first-hand as an examiner. I learned that credit unions talked to each other. They knew where we were. They knew the latest thing we were focused on. They knew who the ‘reasonable’ examiners were. The thing is, this made my job easier. Credit unions benefited from this shared information and came prepared with answers and reports that they knew were coming. I take advantage of this valuable resource in my role today. Sometimes I’m the guinea pig and sometimes I am the beneficiary of someone else’s experience, but overall, this network can create a smoother experience for everyone.
- Credit union volunteers are awesome
I examined credit unions all over the country and interacted with several board and supervisory committee members. Whether they represented large or small credit unions in big cities or rural areas, these volunteers had a passion for credit unions. I remember one Joint Conference after an exam when the discussion got a little ‘heated.’ Afterwards one of the board members came up to me and apologized. I remember telling him not to worry, I appreciated his involvement and concern for what was going on. I would much rather talk with board members that care enough to engage with us that way than board members that just blindly agree. I’m lucky now to work for a board that takes their role seriously. They challenge me. They look out for our members and our staff. They understand our credit union’s mission and vision, and occasionally remind our examiners about that mission and vision.
I value all I was able to learn as an NCUA examiner. Most of all, it introduced me to the credit union movement and a career that I love. I appreciate all the credit union leaders that patiently showed me how to be a leader in this movement, and even now I appreciate our examiners for the work they do to make sure we continue to serve our members safely and soundly.