This year’s CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference felt like a great, big credit union reunion. Sure, we advocated for industry priorities, visited with vendors, and heard from thought leaders, but my key takeaway was how engaged and energized everyone was as they reconnected. It got me thinking about what makes the credit union movement so unique, and what we do better than anyone else – collaboration. It’s the common thread running through everything we do.
A Culture of Collaboration
We are an industry that is powered by personal relationships; the relationships we build with our colleagues and peers, with policymakers and with members. When I began my credit union career over 30 years ago, I was told that a culture based on collaboration is what sets credit unions apart from other financial institutions. If I needed help making sense of compliance policies and procedures, or assistance with strategic planning or community outreach, I knew my credit union counterparts would not hesitate to provide guidance, information and resources. Collaboration has been, and always will be, essential to our movement’s continued growth and success.
Leveraging Collaboration Strategically
Leveraged strategically, collaboration helps promote and protect credit union priorities. I’ll never forget the first meeting I attended over a decade ago after becoming President and CEO of the MD|DC Credit Union Association. Then-Maine Credit Union League CEO John Murphy described the 535-seat strategy developed by the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) in partnership with the Leagues and CUNA. It’s a simple, but effective strategy. As Leagues, we work tirelessly with our credit unions to develop and maintain strong relationships with every single member of congress. When the pandemic hit, lawmakers at both the state and federal levels turned to credit unions and leagues for their expertise in identifying how best to help those struggling financially. Those relationships are why we had a seat at the decision-making table and why we are the envy of other national trade associations.
Leagues have a rich history of leveraging collaboration to gain efficiencies and find solutions. League InfoSight and CU PolicyPro were designed specifically by a group of Leagues to provide up-to-date compliance information and guidance for all 50 states. In 2019, several leagues collaborated to form CU Risk Intelligence and purchased a cloud-based compliance solution, AffirmX, to deliver audits, compliance monitoring and other services online to help credit unions reduce costs and workloads.
In 2015, the MD|DC Credit Union Association collaborated with the California/Nevada and New Jersey Credit Union Leagues to create Plexcity, a company that provides back-office solutions to Leagues and Associations. By combining resources, we reduced back-office costs and streamlined operations, allowing us to focus on what’s most important, delivering value to our member credit unions. Many asked, “Why not just merge?” We responded with, “Why?!” By preserving our independence and individual identities, we ensured those personal relationships we worked so hard to build with policymakers would be maintained. After all, advocacy is at the heart of everything we do. Today, 15 leagues and eight other organizations utilize Plexcity.
Managing a Crisis through Collaboration
We’ve seen over the past few years just how important collaboration is during times of crisis. Throughout the pandemic, League Presidents hosted CEO roundtables, giving credit union leaders the opportunity to gain crucial and candid insight from their peers, as well as share how they were overcoming challenges and developing solutions.
When George Floyd was murdered in 2020, and many leaders in the movement looked to engage in an open and ongoing dialogue about social justice, Renee Sattiewhite and the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC) led the crucial conversations that needed to take place. The power of collaboration has never been more evident.
I am incredibly thankful to be part of a movement that is rooted in the “People Helping People” philosophy, and where collaboration plays a key role in driving culture, strategy and solutions. It was great to see so many colleagues at GAC and to be reminded of the positive energy that comes from supporting each other to make a difference.