Have We Acted Like a Credit Union Today?

Jun 14


Shelby McCarthy

Shelby McCarthy

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There's a striking example of this ideal in the World Council of Credit Unions' call for self-audit and renewal. It says: "Credit union management and staff should regularly ask the question, `How have we acted like (or unlike) a credit union today?'"

This is not the sort of statement you see just anywhere. It's a remarkable call to reflection and renewal. It's a call to self-improvement as credit unions. It's a call to examine what you do -- how you operate -- in light of credit union ideals.

I think this applies at several different levels. It applies to each individual credit union. It also applies to credit unions as a group. And it applies to credit unions organized together in associations like CUNA.

The ideal of self-improvement carries with it an openness to change. Think back to that pair of questions: How have we acted like a credit union today? How have we acted unlike a credit union today? The whole idea of asking such questions is to try to rise above our old habits,Have We Acted Like a Credit Union Today? Articles our first reactions -- the easy, comfortable, usual way of doing things.

Let's think about what this means for how credit unions approach public policy issues -- including issues regarding credit union supervision, and credit union safety and soundness. Some people seem to think the best way to protect the credit union movement is to resist any policy, any change, that didn't originate with credit unions themselves. For example, some proposal by the National Credit Union Administration. Perhaps they fear that if you go along with someone else's reasonable ideas, you'll establish some sort of precedent and have to go along with their unreasonable ideas, as well.

Whatever the reason, it can be very easy to fall into a pattern of having a negative reflex reaction to outside proposals for reform. Many trade associations operate that way in Washington. They think it's a real badge of strength to be able to deep-six even reasonable proposals originating outside the trade association. They can show they're an 800-pound gorilla. They can show they can't be touched. It's a very macho mentality. And it's very respectable inside the Beltway -- where many organizations spend much of their time trying to prevent or hijack change, and where lobbyists gin up campaigns to protect entrenched interests.

I believe that credit union ideals point in a very different direction. I believe a movement committed to high ideals looks for ways to make things better. I believe a movement committed to self-improvement looks for ways to make itself better. If renewal is your goal, you don't just brush off new ideas. You look at what can best help you realize your ideals.

Let me underscore this point by talking about David and Goliath, two names that appear in materials for this conference. I'd like to draw an analogy based on the kind of people David and Goliath were.

The Biblical David was (among many other things) someone acutely open to self-reflection. He seems to have done his own regular self-audit. He was open to renewal, open to change. Goliath, by contrast, was a big bully, proclaiming that might makes right. He was about as open to self-audit and self-improvement as a pile of bricks.

In a sense, we can think of David and Goliath as embodying different ways of approaching public policy issues. CUNA is free to choose either approach. Goliath is the 800-pound gorilla. He bats away proposals for reform like King Kong swatted those little biplanes. But David is open to self-improvement, open to change, open to renewal. That doesn't mean getting pushed around. It does mean looking for ways to come even closer to credit union ideals -- those bedrock values that set credit unions apart.

And here I want to emphasize the importance of strong, effective supervision by regulators like the NCUA. I know it's easy, in times like these, when the financial system is as healthy as it's been for decades, to get complacent and see supervision and examination simply as burdens. Remember that effective supervision protects your long-term interests. It is good for the health of your individual credit unions. It is good for the health and credibility of the credit union movement. And it protects your investments in the Share Insurance Fund.