Michigan Credit Unions are a Diverse Group in Terms of Size, Products, Services and Membership. But All Share a Need for the Resources Provided by the MCUL and Benefit from a Strong Credit Union System — Proof of the ‘Power of Association.’
Credit union needs in the 21st Century are as varied as credit unions themselves. At any given time, there are credit unions contemplating a charter expansion or a name change and seeking direction on how best to proceed; credit unions seeking timely and accurate information and analysis on legislative, regulatory and legal developments and trends; credit unions needing technical or customized training for their management, employees and volunteers.
There are credit unions in need of assistance with regulatory compliance issues or an upcoming regulatory exam, or credit unions navigating through the maze of new technologies and regulations in upgrading their Web sites. Other credit unions are dealing with a negative news story and how best to deal with the media’s gaze and diffuse a potential crisis. And many a Michigan credit union, hurt by the state’s under-performing economy or the loss of a key sponsor or Select Employee Group, is seeking added expertise in operations, budgeting, asset/liability management and strategic planning.
Only one organization is suited to help find solutions in each one of these cases — and literally hundreds more — by virtue of its ability to gather together the collective informational, financial and political strength of all Michigan credit unions: the Michigan Credit Union League. Each day, the presence of the MCUL and a strong and effective Credit Union System can make the difference between an effective answer and a nagging problem, between growth and decline, between success and failure. To say that the MCUL continues to be the resource for its members and the Michigan credit union movement is a simple statement of fact.
Attempting to enumerate all the benefits of League membership would be daunting, but there is all but universal agreement on what should lead the list — the MCUL’s legislative and regulatory advocacy efforts.
“That’s where we see the power of numbers and people,” said E&A CU (ME) President/CEO Janet Rose. “There’s no way any single credit union could be as influential and effective in dealing with lawmakers in Lansing and Washington as the League and CUNA. In promoting credit unions and keeping our issues in front of lawmakers and regulators, the MCUL does a fantastic job.”
Such notable victories as the successful modernization of the Michigan Credit Union Act, the Campaign for Consumer Choice, Operation Grassroots and the continued preservation of the credit union movement’s tax exemption and regulatory independence all bear witness to the effectiveness of the Credit Union System’s legislative advocacy.
But, for every history-making triumph, there are thousands of smaller accomplishments for the MCUL. Sometimes, the victory can be as simple as helping a smaller credit union map out its future.
Greg Hallman, president/CEO at K&E FCU (JA), said his credit union relied on its MCUL Relationship Manager (Consultant) for its Planning Session last year.
“The experience and expertise available through the League means a lot,” Hallman said. “No matter what might come up, there’s a credit union out there that has already dealt with the same issue. I feel comfortable asking (League staff) pretty much any question that pertains to our industry.
“For example, if a credit union our size is interested in trying to grow its income, through the League we can draw upon the experience of similar credit unions that have tried this or implemented that. The League is always a good resource for new ideas.”
Although it is not part of the League’s dues-supported activities, cooperative advertising is also a direct result of credit union unity and cooperation. And credit unions are seeing its benefits.
“It’s a simple fact that no single credit union could afford to produce and run so many ads without pooling its resources with other credit unions,” said ELGA CU (FL) President/CEO Karen Church, a former chairman of the Cooperative Advertising Forum. “And we all benefit from strengthening the credit union brand. Personally, I’m happy to see somebody go to a credit union for their financial services — even if it isn’t our credit union.”
Church added that while cooperative advertising has achieved measurable results to date — surveys indicate that Michigan consumers are now more aware of credit unions and the benefits of membership — the campaign is entering a critical phase.
“In my opinion, if we don’t continue on with the program, we’ll end up losing everything we’ve accomplished to this point,” she said. “And to do that, we need more participating credit unions, because how much we’re able to do is directly related to how much funding we have.
“If we can keep the program going for five years, at the size and scope it needs to be, I think we’ll see a real impact on membership growth. At a time when many credit unions are struggling trying to grow, the value of that can’t be overstated.”
Michigan’s weak economy has undoubtedly disinclined some credit unions to participate in cooperative advertising funds, she noted — but the reality is that a weak economy only increases the need for effective marketing of the credit union brand.
“In a good economy or a bad economy, people still need access to financial services,” she said. “If we can reach out to people now and help them get through some tough times, they’ll be that much more loyal to their credit unions when the economy improves. Historically, a tough economy has been the best time for credit unions to shine — and today’s situation is no exception.”
University of Michigan CU (HV) Business Development Director Jim Kirk also expressed his credit union’s support for the ongoing cooperative advertising efforts. “We need to get the word out that there are alternatives in financial services,” he said. “Cooperative advertising accomplishes that, and I know from my own experience that it works.”
When recruiting new members among U of M faculty and students, Kirk said that he and other credit union staff are frequently asked about the ads — and that this connection has helped persuade potential members to join. “We’ll be asked, ‘Is this like that ad I heard on the radio or saw on TV?’ It serves as a good ice-breaker and it’s helping us gain new members,” he said.
But even beyond the potential for growing members, an extensive cooperative advertising campaign more than pays for itself by helping educate consumers, lawmakers and the media on the credit union difference. That can play a critical role in the continued success of the MCUL’s legislative advocacy efforts, Kirk noted.
“Pointing out how credit unions are not for profit, how we’re there to serve our members and our communities is obviously a message we need to get out,” he said.
“There are people who say politics is just a game — but it’s the only game we have and if credit unions aren’t involved, it’s a game we can’t win. The people in Lansing and Washington are the ones who make the laws and rules we live by, and how those laws are written will have a big impact on our success.
“It’s all about strength in numbers — we can accomplish a lot more together than we ever can individually. That’s been one of the key strengths of the credit union movement right from the very beginning.”
Hank Hubbard, president/CEO at Communicating Arts CU (MW), said his credit union particularly relies on the League’s education and training programs. He likened his credit union’s membership in the MCUL to an “insurance policy.”
“We need to have a resource, someplace we can contact whenever a new issue or problem comes up,” Hubbard said. “There’s no way a credit union our size is going to be familiar with every issue, or be able to access the training programs we need without getting them through the League.”
The ability to network with peers through MCUL and chapter function is also a key benefit of membership, he added. “We just had a chapter meeting, and the talk focused on current issues and League initiatives,” Hubbard said. “I can’t imagine that group of people getting together in any other forum other than a chapter meeting. The League is an excellent catalyst for bringing people together to share their ideas and experiences.”
Hubbard has also been active in international credit union development, another benefit of a strong and effective Credit Union System. Through the MCUL, CUNA and the World Council of Credit Unions, he was able to serve as a hands-on consultant as part of the MCUL’s recent efforts to help establish and grow cooperative savings and credit organizations in Macedonia.
“Certainly, there’s a ‘feel-good’ aspect to international involvement, in that you’re playing a role in helping people help themselves by fostering a credit union movement in another country,” Hubbard said. “But, I’ve found there’s a tangible benefit, too. Watching a credit union movement take root and grow, working with credit union pioneers and with legislators and government officials, has provided me with some insights to our own credit unions. And it’s inspiring to see the commitment to the cooperative philosophy of People Helping People. It helps you refocus on what credit unions are all about.”
In the case of Mary Carnarvon-LaHousse, president/CEO of Unified Communities FCU (MW), the commitment to credit union unity and a strong MCUL may be in her blood. Her father, the late Harry Carnarvon, dedicated more than 40 years to the credit union movement. He served as MCUL assistant managing director (vice president) and in 1986 was inducted into the Michigan Credit Union Hall of Fame.
However, her commitment to the Credit Union System extends far beyond the family history. She has 20 years of personal credit union service upon which to base her own observations and opinions.
“I am a firm League believer,” she said. “We need the leadership the League provides at the core, representing the ‘flag in the ground’ to rally credit unions around common goals, not just at the state level but nationally, too.
“Plus, look what’s happening to financial markets nationally — it’s good to know the League is there for resources to help guide credit union management through rough waters, if necessary.”
Carnarvon-LaHousse recalled her own experience as “a really green CEO” inheriting a less than ideal financial situation. At the time, she noted, the regulators were attempting to impose policies and restrictions “which wouldn’t have been very healthy for our membership.”
“The League didn’t turn its back on us,” Carnarvon-LaHousse said. “They were right there to jump in, stand by us and provide good advice and sound counsel — all critical to helping us out of a poor situation. The whole experience was a great example of the value of a strong, effective MCUL.”
At TLC CU (HV), President/CEO Randy Smith puts a high value on his credit union’s relationship with the MCUL. As a larger-sized credit union (assets at $270 million), TLC CU is no longer very dependent on some League services — but Smith said he recognizes the vital role an effective trade association plays in representing its members among legislators and regulators.
“(MCUL President/CEO) Dave Adams and his staff do a great job with political action,” Smith said. “We might not always agree with a particular policy, but I usually do — and if I don’t, I appreciate the fact that I can call Dave at any time and provide some counterpoint or feedback.
“Really, if the League did nothing else than provide effective legislative and regulatory advocacy, our dues would still be money well spent.”
Perhaps the most convincing testimonial to the wisdom of unity and membership in a strong trade association, however, can be found in the simple numbers. There are an estimated 24,000 trade groups currently in the U.S., bringing together hundreds of thousands of organizations, individuals and businesses to achieve common goals and protect common interests. And, among credit union trade associations, the MCUL is universally regarded as among the strongest, most effective and most innovative — a distinction shared at the national level by the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).
The full value of the MCUL is also found in its cooperative relationships and resulting synergies it has with other numerous credit union-related organizations, such as CenCorp, the CUNA Mutual Group, Co-Op Network, the World Council of Credit Unions, the Michigan Credit Union Foundation, National Credit Union Foundation, Credit Unions for Kids and the Family Involvement Council.
And, not to be overlooked as a key component of the Credit Union System’s strength and progress are the fee-supported products and
services provided by CUcorp and CU Village.com, the MCUL’s subsidiaries. Organized, owned and managed by credit union people, CUcorp and CU Village hold unique positions among credit union vendors in their ability to meet the needs of the credit union marketplace.
“The MCUL was organized in 1934, and the record of the last 73 years is pretty convincing — cooperation and the power of association work,” said MCUL President/CEO Adams. “And with MCUL membership fees just a fraction of those at most other large leagues, the value of unity, cooperation and League membership has never been greater.”