By. Paul Gentile, CUNA
If you were one of the 4,200 credit union participants who attended the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) last week, you witnessed a program that made headlines, caught the attention of official Washington, unveiled a new approach by the federal regulator, and opened the door to a first-time-ever “vision” for the movement to “unite for good.”
But, if you weren’t there – here’s a quick look at the highlights:
TAX REFORM IS JOB 1: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that major tax code reform would be the first piece of legislation considered by the House – earning it the prominent “HR 1” designation. The story earned headlines around the nation, noting the Speaker made the announcement at the CUNA conference. Although few details were offered – including any impact on credit unions, Speaker Boehner’s comments made it clear: Tax reform is among his highest priorities for this Congress. (A new “Taxation Toolkit” is now available to CUNA/League members on cuna.org to help credit unions deal with the upcoming tax debate).
BUT ‘NO’ TO TAX ON CREDIT UNIONS: However, an influential House leader close to Speaker Boehner – Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), and chairman of the House Financial Services Committee – made it clear where he stands on the results of tax reform: “If I have anything to do with it, it will not be taxation on our credit unions,” he told the crowd. Washington press covering congressional developments reported his comments widely.
‘A NEW NCUA’ PROMISED: Board Chairman Debbie Matz announced plans for “modernizing and revitalizing” the agency in areas such as examinations and allowing more innovative products and services. “Sometimes U.S. regulatory bodies put the brakes on change until the regulators can catch up,” she said. “But that’s not the choice NCUA is making—not on my watch. We can either try to slow it down, or we can do everything in our power to move forward ourselves.” She explained that the agency is modernizing and revitalizing for an industry that is “newly vibrant, increasingly complex and rapidly changing.” Meanwhile, CUNA shared results of its national exam survey which showed – based on responses of more than 1,500 credit unions nationwide – that about 60% of credit union CEOs believe the regulatory exam process for credit unions works reasonably well. But the survey results also showed there is room for improvement: One in four CEOs said they were dissatisfied or “very dissatisfied” with the exam process.
BOOST FOR BUSINESS LENDING: House Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) firmly stated support for increased business lending by credit unions. “I thank you for wanting to do this, and I’m going to help you do it,” she said as the crowd cheered. Her remarks followed those by Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif. and author of business lending legislation in the House strongly supported by CUNA as a “charter enhancement” for credit unions), who exhorted the GAC participants to share stories with Congress about how they can better serve business-borrowing members. “You are the boots on the ground. Each of us in our credit unions have stories to tell. I want you to share them so we can raise this lending cap.”
SUPPORT FOR SUPPLEMENTAL CAPITAL: Reps. Peter King (R-N.Y) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) urged the crowd to back their bill allowing credit unions to accept additional forms of capital (more charter enhancement legislation backed by CUNA). Rep. Sherman contrasted the credit unions’ ask for capital access with that of the banks: “They asked us for $700 billion in capital. You’re asking us to get out of the way and let you raise capital from the private sector. Which is the better way to provide capital for America’s financial institutions?”
SEEKING ANSWERS FOR CFPB: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) directly asked credit unions to throw their support behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Senate confirmation of Richard Cordray as its director. “Rich has been providing balance, creating space for credit unions and other small financial institutions to run their businesses and serve their customers without drowning them in regulations,” she said in comments also widely reported in Washington. But former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bauchus (R-Ala.) said House and Senate lawmakers “are in serious talks” over a bill (endorsed by CUNA) that would replace the CFPB’s single director with a bipartisan commission – an approach he said credit unions would likely find “more fair and less dictatorial.”
A VISION FOR THE MOVEMENT TO ‘UNITE FOR GOOD’: CUNA President and CEO Bill Cheney outlined a first-ever vision for the credit union movement: “Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner.” To achieve this vision, Cheney told the thousands of credit union participants, it will be paramount for credit unions to “unite for good” and work together in three key areas: Removing barriers (such as regulatory and legislative impediments to credit union growth and long-term stability); building awareness (by tuning more people into the benefits of credit union membership), and; fostering service excellence (by finding new ways to leverage collaboration and innovation to deliver a member experience in financial services that is second to none).
These highlights are just part of the story; so much more was discussed in the breakout sessions, hallways, receptions and intervals between sessions. For exhaustive coverage, visit the website of Credit Union Magazine.
If you participated in this year’s GAC, you’re fully informed, energized to advocate for credit unions – and ready to take on the future. If you couldn’t attend, now is the opportunity to work with your league, get involved in the issues – and help the movement make even more headlines about achieving credit union success.