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In renewing old tradition, CUNA members confront modern challenges

As credit unions plot their recovery from the pandemic, they’re looking to their peers for clues on economic health and what the regulatory environment will look like in the months ahead. For the first time in two years, that collaboration is happening in-person.

The Credit Union National Association’s governmental affairs conference was a virtual event in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 4,500 attendees are expected on site in Washington this week, which is just a tick below pre-pandemic attendance levels.

While many execs have said just being able to collaborate face to face with their peers again is critical, some weighty issues face the industry. Bernie Winne, president and CEO of Boston Firefighters Credit Union in Dorchester, Massachusetts, wants insights on potential policies from CUNA and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“I am hoping to learn more about what is pending at each agency and how these plans are going to intersect with the many economic challenges that credit unions face as we emerge from the COVID centered world in which we have been living,” Winne said.

Although not an issue at $398 million-asset Boston Firefighters CU at this time, Winne is concerned about the growth of credit unions during the pandemic and the capital-related issues that many credit unions face. He’s also concerned that domestic politics and the crisis in Ukraine may halt new legislation for credit unions in 2022.

“With Europe on the brink of war and midterm elections just over nine months away, I am not sure that members’ business loans will catch much attention,” he said.

“With Europe on the brink of war and midterm elections just over nine months away, I am not sure that members’ business loans will catch much attention,” Boston Firefighters Credit Union CEO Bernie Winne (left) says of his expectations for the CUNA conference. VyStar Credit Union CEO Brian Wolfburg says: “I want to understand the overall pressures on mergers when consolidation is what we need to offset the added cost of regulation, talent, technology and cybersecurity.”

VyStar Credit Union’s CEO Brian Wolfburg has mergers and acquisitions on his mind this week at the conference. The $11.7 billion-asset credit union in Jacksonville, Florida, announced the largest credit union acquisition of a bank ever when it agreed to buy the $1.6 billion-asset Heritage Southeast Bank in Jonesboro, Georgia.

“I want to understand the overall pressures on mergers when consolidation is what we need to offset the added cost of regulation, talent, technology and cybersecurity,” he said.

Wolfsburg is also interested in how cryptocurrency and other digital currencies may impact credit unions, what steps are being taken to address data privacy and how credit union regulations may change under new CFPB under Director [Rohit] Chopra. “I want clarity on where additional regulatory focus will be and opportunities for modernization of some existing regulations,” Wolfburg said.

The economy, especially in relation to inflation and monetary policy, will be of top interest this year, according to Amy Brodersen, president and CEO of $40 million-asset Family Focus Federal Credit Union in Omaha, Nebraska. “What does recovery look like and how long can we expect it to last? When can we see an improvement in the interest rate markets and when do we expect the supply chains to return to some normalcy?” she said.

Figuring out what effect the current economic recovery will have on credit union operations is crucial, Brodersen said. “I also would like to hear conversation around this current move to reduce overdraft fees and what others might be doing to prepare for a reduction in fee income,” she said.

Caroline Willard, president and CEO of the Cornerstone League, which serves credit unions in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, said advocacy for credit unions is a top priority as the group comes to Washington.

“For example, we need to urge lawmakers to modernize the Federal Credit Union Act so that the field of membership and member business lending provisions better reflect the current needs of U.S. credit unions,” she said. “I serve on the CUNA Advocacy Committee, so I’m excited to see us activate the strategy that we’ve been honing for the last few months.”

Willard is also eager to see the excitement build around what the CUNA is calling Financial Well Being for All. The CFPB defines financial well-being as “having financial security and financial freedom of choice, in the present and in the future” and Willard said credit unions around the country are already working to enhance financial well-being in the communities they serve, “so this next chapter is about quantifying that work and taking it to the next level.”

But even with all of the issues facing credit unions, getting back in-person among peers after a long absence might be the most important aspect of the conference, Winne said.

“Sometimes the price of a great credit union consultant is simply a drink at the Marriott Bar,” he said. “That is one of the things that I love about credit unions and that has kept me in the industry for 40 years. I have missed it and am thrilled to be back in D.C. among so many new and old friends.”



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