Special Report from Day One of the Governmental Affairs Conference

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Happy Monday credit unions, and welcome to CUSO Magazine’s new special report series, coming to you straight from the Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington D.C. We are breaking away from our regularly scheduled programming this week to bring you daily coverage of GAC and other credit union events taking place throughout the conference, which runs from March 3rd to March 7th.

So whether you’re unable to attend this year or simply looking for a refresher on the day’s events, make sure to stay tuned, as CUSO Magazine will bring you the latest and greatest all week long. While these reports will be quick rundowns featuring daily highlights, we’ll be delving deeper into the sessions, topics, and discussions occurring throughout the conference in future articles, so keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks!

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the event, the Governmental Affairs Conference, hosted by newly-formed America’s Credit Unions, is the industry’s largest annual advocacy event, boasting upwards of 5,000 attendees each year and growing. At GAC, credit union professionals meet to discuss industry trends, challenges, and technologies. In the latter part of the week, credit union leagues meet with government officials and lawmakers to advocate for credit union and member needs.

Yesterday was the first day of the event, and while Sunday may typically be considered the day of rest, that was certainly not the case for the nearly 6,000 credit union advocates and professionals in D.C.

The Underground Collison

Though official conference festivities didn’t begin until later in the day, for many, including myself, the day unofficially started bright and early at the  Underground Collison event sponsored by Mitchell Stankovic & Associates. The Underground Collision features several panels of experts sharing their thoughts and advice on current industry topics.

The theme for this year was SPIN: Canceling the Echo Chamber, which aimed at combating the rise of false information as well as stepping out of our comfort zones and echo chambers to embrace change and revolutionize the industry.

Susan Mitchell, CEO of Mitchell Stankovic & Associates and host of the event, started the morning by commenting on how easy it is for people to get lost in their echo chambers and challenged attendees to broaden their perspectives and hold themselves personally accountable for cultivating change.

Brandi Stankovic, the emcee of the event, followed by reflecting on the overwhelming amount of noise in today’s society, which is filled with false information, contradictions, and chaotic events such as school shootings, pandemics, and financial crises. In the face of all this noise, it can be easy to become numb and lose all empathy, taking an “it is what it is” approach over action and change.

“The world is in chaos, and we are constantly putting out fires,” said Stankovic. “We are finding ourselves in extremes. Some people aren’t regulating at all while others are emotionally numb. As a result, we are normalizing problems and seeking distractions instead of solutions. But that emotional numbness leads to diminishing returns on human compassion and human progress.”

Throughout the morning, panels spoke on topics such as the founding of the new America’s Credit Unions, creating a revolution within credit unions, the loss of member trust (and how to get it back), the importance of engaging communities in a digital age, and the effect of the Ukraine war and other overseas conflicts on credit unions and how credit unions are stepping up during these times.

But despite the wide range of topics, empathy remained a constant theme in each discussion, reminding credit unions that members and their financial wellness should be at the center of all the credit union does.

(More on the Underground Collison to come later.)

The Stand Up Summit

Following the Underground Collision was the inaugural Stand Up Summit powered by CU Pride™, the credit union industry’s LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

Zach Christensen, Co-Founder of CU Pride and Director of DEI and Digital Marketing at Mitchell Stankovic & Associates opened the summit with CU Pride’s four main tenets and reflected on the journey CU Pride had taken from its founding four years ago. Once made of only 37 members, the organization now has over 22,000 credit union professionals from 37 states.

Christensen also reminded attendees not to get comfortable with success and get lost in the echo chamber, but to continue moving forward and seeking out new ways to grow, focusing on investment, engagement, and discipline regarding DEI.

This industry was created to stand up and fill the gaps for people in need. People helping people is our motto, but it means nothing without investment, engagement, and discipline,” said Christensen. “Our common bond connects us, but it can also enable us to echo back to each other to ensure our passion is enough. But it is not enough. We must be diligent, we must be forward-thinking, and we must continue filling gaps for those in need. A movement is only a movement if we keep it moving.”

The three panels at the event each focused on the topics Christensen touched on: investment, engagement, and discipline. How credit unions can invest and commit themselves to DEI objectives beyond writing a check, how credit unions can inspire transformative engagement, and how they can hold themselves accountable to these commitments, even in the face of rising DEI backlash.

GAC opens with comments from Jim Nussle

After an exciting and thought-provoking morning, the Governmental Affairs Conference’s first general session—and the only session of the day—started early that evening. The tenth annual GAC (the first since the founding of America’s Credit Unions) opened with remarks from Jim Nussle, President and CEO of America’s Credit Unions, and his wife, Karen Nussle.

Despite the change from CUNA to America’s Credit Unions, Nussle assured attendees that the conference would still be an “intimate, family affair.”

“For me, this event is like a family reunion,” Karen Nussle started. “A reunion that brings together thousands of people, including our most passionate credit union leaders, professionals, and volunteers from all over the country.”

Jim Nussle went on to praise the industry strength and commitment that the conference demonstrated, with nearly 6,000 credit union professionals in attendance, 600 individual meetings already scheduled with members of Congress on Capitol Hill, and dozens of hotels filled with credit union advocates.

“When I think about the GAC, I think about how this is undoubtedly the biggest, most influential financial services convention in Washington D.C. It’s pretty amazing. It really shows our industrial strength as a movement and it shows our industrial strength with the army of advocates that are going to be here this week,” said Jim Nussle.

Nussle then led into the keynote speaker for the session, Cassandra Worthy, CEO and Founder of Change Enthusiasm Global. Her book, Change Enthusiasm: How to Harness the Power of Emotion for Leadership and Success, is built on the idea of making active and conscious choices to view change as a positive force and opportunity to drive growth. 

Her short but impactful presentation generated great energy within the crowd and set the conference off on the right foot, repeating the sentiments stated in the Underground Collison that morning: it’s time to step out of the echo chamber and embrace change for the betterment of all.

The conference continues Monday morning, so make sure to check back into CUSO Magazine for the latest news.

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