Special Report from Day Two of the Governmental Affairs Conference

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Welcome back to our daily update from the 2024 Governmental Affairs Conference, hosted by America’s Credit Unions in Washington D.C.! If you were unable to join us yesterday, this daily series is going to be covering all the action, excitement, and changes unfolding this week at the industry’s largest conference.

To catch up on events taking place Sunday, including the Underground Collison, the Stand Up Summit, and the GAC opening general session with addresses from President and CEO of America’s Credit Unions, Jim Nussle, and keynote speaker, Cassandra Worthy, you can find all the Special Reports from GAC on the CUSO Mag website.

Day two kicks off with great fanfare

While Monday was technically the second day of the Governmental Affairs Conference, it was the first full day of events and featured a much larger crowd, as many attendees arrived just the night before. As such, the first general session of the day opened with all the pomp, circumstance, and fanfare allowed.

GAC host Mia Perez, Chief Administrative Officer of Coastal Credit Union in North Carolina, welcomed nearly 6,000 credit union professionals to the conference in her opening speech and cited the number of attendees as a testament to the impact credit unions can have.

“I want you to tell your credit union’s story and prove the credit union difference,” said Perez. “Let’s take our credit union industry to the next level.”

Following opening remarks, the session continued with the Parade of Flags, in which members from each state league carry their state flag down the aisle and display it on either side of the main stage. The parade, like most, was festive, with many league representatives donning colorful clothes such as jerseys and leis to represent their states.

Speaking on the meaning of the Parade of Flags, Perez noted, “They represent the collaboration, commitment, and the passion that all of us—credit unions, state leagues, and America’s Credit Unions—all have for our advocacy efforts. We are all united in helping people afford and achieve their very best lives.”

Continuing the opening ceremony, the United States Airforce Color Guard presented the colors after which local singer and songwriter Cecily Bumbray sang the national anthem and Jack Fallis, Board Chairman of the Defense Credit Union Council recited the pledge of allegiance.

Delving into America’s Credit Unions

Of course, despite being nowhere near the first Governmental Affairs Conference, it is notably the first led by the new credit union advocacy group formed after the merger of CUNA and NAFCU, America’s Credit Unions. The organization, still in its very early stages, was only officially formed on the first of the year. As such, this GAC is the first time America’s Credit Unions is presenting itself in front of the industry and showcasing its new mission and goals in a widely visible manner.

Understanding the importance of such a moment, the organization took the opportunity to share its vision, promises, and agenda with the industry. First, Parez was joined on stage by the entire Board of Directors for America’s Credit Unions, who received a warm reception from the crowd. Board Chair Brian Schools and Vice Chair Lisa Ginter remained to chat with Perez and provide attendees with some insight into the inner workings of the merger, how initial merger talks went, and what the hopes for the united group are.

On the topic of creating the new organization, Ginter noted, “There was no ego at the discussion table, and that’s what allowed us to form this powerful, unified, strong voice as America’s Credit Unions. The board was intentional to create something clear and compelling as our mission and our why. We all know what we do each and every day for our members. It’s time to create a single resource for credit unions to tell our story in a powerful way.”

Schools followed up on Ginter’s comments, adding, “We made a commitment right out of the gate that we didn’t want America’s Credit Unions to be 2.0 of CUNA or NAFCU. This is not a simple reboot. Hopefully, you’re already seeing a lot of difference and change and more of that will be coming.”

Ginter ended the interview by calling on credit unions to hold the board, as well as the organization as a whole, responsible and accountable.

President and CEO of America’s Credit Unions, Jim Nussle, then danced his way onto the stage singing along to Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” referencing the relentless advocacy work America’s Credit Unions promises to commit itself to. In his speech, Nussle shared their mission: “to advocate for and advance an environment where credit unions thrive,” and vision: “people everywhere trust and partner with credit unions to help them afford and achieve their best lives.”

Furthermore, Nussle revealed the organization’s Commitment of Membership and the nine promises they pledge to uphold:

  • We promise to put our members at the center
  • We promise to listen and learn
  • We promise to fight 
  • We promise to focus
  • We promise to be responsive
  • We promise to be responsible
  • We promise to deliver
  • We promise to be a proactive partner
  • We promise to lead

Nussle then delved further into a few of America’s Credit Union’s key strategic priorities for the upcoming year, and areas of concern they are keeping an eye on, including attacks on overdraft fee protection, the NCUA’s aims to expand consumer exams and third-party vendor authority, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “mission to expand their authority and establish their relevance.”

All of this is why, according to Nussle, America’s Credit Unions is promising that advocacy is and will forever be item number one on their agenda.

“We are not going to give one inch,” said Nussle.

You can do just that little more

In keeping with the credit union difference of people helping people, the next speaker of the first general session of the day was someone who embodies those principles in their daily life: actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise. Sinise opened for the crowd by referencing Forrest Gump, reminding everyone that life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get. And for that day, attendees were stuck with him.

Sinise, founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation, a charity and veteran’s service organization, shared the journey he had taken in his life from “self to service.” His work and commitment to improving the lives of wounded veterans and supporting the families of the fallen inspired the crowd, leading host Mia Perez to ask how he found the motivation to keep going.

“We can never do enough, but how do you find the drive to keep doing so much more?” Perez asked.

“From the very beginning, I saw what the simple act of showing up could do for somebody, and I saw the impact that was made. What keeps you going is that you can see the effectiveness of what you’re doing. It makes you want to keep coming back. It makes you want to do a little more.”

While not speaking directly about credit unions, it’s easy to see how Sinise’s words apply to our industry as well, and how we, in the face of roadblocks and challenges, can find ways to do that little more and continue our work of people helping people.

Finding ways to improve

In the second general session of the day, Jim Nussle sat down with President and CEO of TruStage (formerly CUNA Mutual) Terrence Williams, to discuss the importance of advocacy and how we might see it changing over the coming years.

When asked why advocacy was so critical to the industry, Williams responded, “It’s about access. It’s about assuring elected officials recognize that there can be unintended consequences when legislation is passed. What is often the case is without proper understanding or education around key constituents, it’s possible to pass legislation that has a dire impact on those you’re trying to assist.”

As a recent addition to the credit unions, with a fresh perspective on the current state of the industry, issues we’re facing, and the advantages of credit unions, Nussle asked Williams to share a few critical areas where he feels credit unions as a whole can improve. Williams listed three main areas needing improvement. 1) How we tell the credit union story. In other words, we need to create a consistent, unified, and rhythmic story. 2) Digital maturity. Credit unions, Williams believes, are falling behind in the digital landscape, and in an age where consumers demand the ability to do everything from their phones, many are falling behind.

Finally, 3) the continued need for increased diversity within positions of leadership. While he remarked on how well the industry was doing with the number of women in leadership, he noted that the amount of people of color in leadership roles was far fewer. “We need to ensure that we look like the marketplace we serve,” Williams answered.

In wrapping up the conversation, Williams announced TruStage’s donation of $250,000 to ensure credit unions can fight the system around fees, in order to align with America’s Credit Union’s earlier promise to focus on the issue. “To be an advocate, to show commitment, to demonstrate your value,” said Williams, “means putting forth our time, energy, and efforts, to support the things that are most important to the system, and this is a big one that can have dire consequences to a number of people and credit unions.”

Protect, empower, advance

Later in the day, Carrie Hunt, Chief Advocacy Officer at Americas Credit Unions, came on stage to detail some key strategies and initiatives for America’s Credit Unions. In echoing Nussle’s earlier statements, Hunt promised that advocacy was the association’s number one priority, but would require the help of credit unions throughout the industry.

“Advocacy starts local and ends global,” Hunt commented. “Advocacy starts in neighborhoods and goes up to the top level of government and all the way back down again.”

In their mission of advocacy, Hunt divided America’s Credit Union’s focus and agenda for the year into three categories: protect, empower, and advance.

On the topic of protection, ACU has listed five issues they are dedicated to including, credit unions’ tax exemption status, which is constantly under threat, tailored regulations, combating attacks on overdraft fee protection and junk fees, reforming the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and preventing unlimited NCUA authority.

When looking to empower credit unions and the industry, the organization highlighted three main areas which were protecting interchange, establishing federal data protection standards, and ensuring fair regulation.

For advancing the industry, ACU’s five key agenda items will be expanding access to credit unions and maintaining small ones, lifting member business loan caps, increasing loan maturity limits, exploring new investment options, and supporting innovation.

There will be more information to come regarding America’s Credit Unions and what was covered and shared by executives at the GAC, so keep an eye out for articles on the topic in the coming weeks!

AI takes center stage

With all the buzz surrounding artificial intelligence in the world over the last few years, and in our own industry as well, it should come as no surprise that the second keynote address of the day was on AI. Dr. Jennifer Golbeck is a computer scientist, professor at the University of Maryland, and author of the book, the Purest Bond.

Golbeck began her presentation by reminding credit unions that while AI is a powerful and transformative tool, it has an incredibly limited scope of use in its current state. The challenge credit unions need to meet on this front then is to find ways to effectively harness the technology while maintaining member trust, which can be all too easy to lose when using AI.

To back up her point on trust, she recounted a time when CVS used her private medical information, her prescriptions she had at the pharmacy, as a way to target her in their latest marketing campaign—in which they specifically referenced her medication and urged her to seek resources should she need them.

The medication was, in fact, for her dog.

Speaking on the effect of the incident, Golbeck remarked, “There was absolutely no firewall between the space of sensitive health data crossing into the marketing space. Now, I don’t trust them with my data anymore. The trust your members have in you is one of the things that makes credit unions the most valuable, and if you lose that trust, it will be incredibly damaging. It is so easy for a single message to ruin the trust.”

Overall, Golbeck urged credit unions to continue exploring the technology and finding new ways to use it to improve the member experience, while also installing guardrails to keep it in check. She also cautioned credit unions against mistaking AI for unbiased content and results, particularly when it comes to credit scoring and lending.

“AI of any kind works because we train it. We give it examples of how things have worked in the past and it does some mathematical magic to replicate how we do things. We know humans are flawed and have all kinds of explicit and implicit biases. So if humans are biased, the algorithm will be as well. It wants to get the same answer as the person,” said Golbeck in her closing address. “AI has this veneer of objectivity because it’s math, but because it replicates our decision-making, it replicates our biases as well. This is a critical point. Credit unions need to pay attention, as this will be one of the first places we see regulation around AI.”

The festivities resume bright and early Tuesday morning, so stay tuned as CUSO Magazine continues to bring you updates and information from the GAC all week long!

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Comments
  • Vic Pantea#1

    March 5, 2024

    Great reporting Emily. You’ve done a good job of hitting the highlights and capturing the atmosphere for those of us not there. Looking forward to tomorrows update.

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