Representing the whole: Credit union association leadership

There has been a lot of discussion lately around the various system associations, their structure, governance, and effectiveness. For some, this is viewed as healthy dialogue, while for others, it is a source of angst. Some will say our system is the envy of most other industries. Others will say there is a need for change. There is a broad spectrum of viewpoints on this topic.

This is a microcosm of association life on a daily basis, although in this case, undoubtedly a bit higher profile. Leading a trade association, or any membership association for that matter, means dealing with diverse opinions and expectations on the association’s role and what benefits it should provide members.

In the first quarter of this year, I spent a substantial amount of time with New Jersey credit union CEOs, both in their offices and through roundtables and other meetings, asking questions about the value they realize from membership in the New Jersey Credit Union League (NJCUL). Not only were the answers varied, as one might expect, but the same people answered similar questions differently if posed relative to day-to-day value today or a hypothetical looking back at how NJCUL best delivered value in a scenario five years from now.

We also talked about success and growth and what that means to a credit union. The answers in this case also varied to a significant degree. For some, membership, asset, or loan growth was key. For others, strong net worth or ROA were among the variety of responses.

You may theorize that there were telling lines of demarcation relative to responses based on credit union asset size. Not the case.

I have also been involved in conversations around partnerships and product offerings, as we look to add well-aligned companies to our service corporation’s slate of providers. Through our due diligence process, we spend time discussing product lines with our members. Unanimity in product, service, or brand selection across the membership is simply not a realistic expectation. Gaining consensus with regards to desirable product lines and services – and quality partners for delivery of those – is the best case scenario for providing options a large percentage of the membership will likely embrace.

In our case, as a state trade association, advocacy is highly important. The narrative just described relative to products and services is largely transferable in this area as well. There are instances where unanimity is possible in advocacy; however, varying credit union business models will drive the prioritization of certain goals differently for each credit union. It is our job, as the association, to understand the range of these goals and defend credit unions on a broad base politically and legislatively, while also looking for feasible “wins” wherever possible. In some cases it also means addressing advocacy issues of importance for specific segments of the membership, when they arise.

This diversity also reinforces our position that credit union regulation should never be prescribed in a one-size-fits-all approach. Whether at the rule-setting level or through individual credit union examinations, evaluation of an individual credit unions’ safety and soundness needs to be relevant to the business model in place. Complexity is not based on asset size, regardless of what the regulator may say. Nor is success. Our role, as associations, is to represent the whole in this regard, as well as the few. Meaning, our broad scale advocacy must match an aggregated opinion of critical mass, yet we must also provide the operational tools and resources to assist individual credit unions in this era of extraordinary regulatory burden.

On a global scale, associations address needs that vary from municipal to international levels and everywhere in-between. Efforts in advocacy range from grass-roots to worldwide. Effectiveness at those levels, relative to the industry served, is assessed differently by the members within the associations’ field of membership. Prioritization of an association’s value in New Jersey, for example, is likely different than what is perceived as valuable in many other states. It is our job to understand the niche we serve and the aggregated wants and needs relative to that demographic, while also providing individualized service to assist members as needed.

As you know, association CEOs like myself, report to our boards of directors, which are elected to represent the membership. This fact is the core of our call to duty. To represent, advocate for, and provide value to all of our members. To me, there is correlation of purpose with the African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

As associations, our number one priority is serving our membership; looking for common ground regardless of diversity in size, complexity, business models, or opinion and striving for the long-term success of those we serve. As discussion moves forward on both the most recent issues of structure and governance, as well as the broad array of other issues relative to the associations of which you are members, I urge you to consider the unique role each association plays in providing for our constituencies, and the powerful value of representation of the whole.

Greg Michlig

Greg Michlig

As CUNA’s EVP/Chief Engagement Officer, Greg leads the organization’s Engagement Unit, an internal shared services team which also directs interactions with the credit union community. The team ... Details