Special Report from Day Four of the Governmental Affairs Conference

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Well, ladies and gentlemen, as impossible as it may seem, we have reached the final day of the 2024 Governmental Affairs Conference, which also means this is our final special report. We hope you’ve enjoyed all the coverage of the event this week and that it provided some valuable insight into the latest trends and topics in the industry.

If you missed any of the previous special reports, you can find them all on the CUSO Mag website.

In comparison to the hustle and bustle of the previous three days, day four was a much quieter affair, as the exhibit hall closed for the final time the night before, and the nearly 300 vendors within it headed home. With no breakout sessions or product demonstrations, the only event of the morning was one final general session.

Nussle and Hunt advise on hill hikes

But despite this being the end of the conference, the work credit union individuals will be doing around D.C. this week hasn’t. Later today and for the rest of tomorrow, credit union leaders will be heading out on hill hikes, led by their state leagues, to talk with lawmakers about the issues impacting credit unions. As of Monday, there were over 600 individual meetings scheduled with lawmakers, so credit union advocacy work will continue.

In preparation for these meetings, America’s Credit Unions President and CEO Jim Nussle and Chief Advocacy Officer Carrie Hunt provided some advice to attendees. They noted that as the leagues and lawmakers are often in discussion with one another, lawmakers are aware of many of the issues already and how they will impact credit unions on a larger scale, but they need to hear from local communities how exactly these are affecting them.

“Talk about the credit union difference, provide individual stories about what is going on at your credit union, back it up with data, and start making the important asks,” said Nussle.

Hunt added that advocates should select their topic ahead of time and be targeted in their approach, and she offered ideas on what to talk about. “Interchange, interchange, interchange,” Hunt recited.

Finally, the pair urged credit unions to continue building relationships with their representatives even after they go back home.

“Dig your well before you are thirsty,” Nussle quoted. “Today we are thirsty, but building this relationship is something that should be done all year long. Invite them to your credit union, have them volunteer, put them in the newsletter, or take a picture with them. Build the well today and it will pay off down the line.”

World Credit Union Conference to be hosted in the U.S.

Moving to credit union advocacy on a global scale, the next speaker was Elissa McCarter Laborde, President and CEO of the World Council of Credit Unions. Laborde shared information on the World Credit Union Conference coming to Boston in March, which is being hosted in collaboration with America’s Credit Unions.

As this is the first time the conference is being held in the United States since 2015 (it was meant to be in California in 2020 but was eventually canceled), Laborde urged attendees to register and attend, noting how important it was for credit unions around the globe to stand united. Especially in advocacy efforts on an international level, such as at the Basel Committee, the Financial Action Task Force, and G20.

“On the cusp of an AI revolution that has the potential to be more powerful than the industrial revolution, where wars are starting and not ending. We are seeing a world that is increasingly more polarized instead of being cooperative. In a world divided, this is all the more reason we must invest in this network that unites us. We are a people with a common purpose.”

Representative Erin Houchin calls for the end of the CFPB

Next, Representative Erin Houchin from Indiana, who serves on the House Financial Services Committee, the House Rules Committee, and the House Education & Workforce Committee, came on stage to express her appreciation for all the important work credit unions do in their communities and offer her commitment to protecting them.

Like many before her in recent days, Rep. Houchin criticized the CFPB and the regulations it is attempting to place on financial institutions. “Your industry is not without its challenges. The regulatory landscape, particularly under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, often presents many hurdles that hinder your ability to serve your members effectively. I have witnessed firsthand the impact of one-size-fits-all regulations that fail to consider the unique needs of smaller financial institutions.”

Representative Houchin also remarked on the organization’s attempt to punish all financial institutions as a result of the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank last spring, despite credit unions having nothing to do with the issue. Going one step further than the speakers before her though, Rep. Houchin called for a complete dissolution of the CFPB, claiming the organization has too much power and that the director refuses to meet with constituents.

“Director Chopra has operated this rogue agency with little accountability, and that has to change. I would like to see it go away completely, but as long as it’s going to exist, it is incumbent upon Congress to have the oversight, the purse strings, and the accountability. Until we can get rid of it, we can at least gain some authority over it.”

Children’s Miracle Network honors credit unions with prestigious award

Focusing back in on the credit union difference and our concern for community, the next presentation of the general session was given by Jean Chatzky, Founder and CEO of HerMoney.com as well as bestselling author and finance journalist, along with John Bratsakis, Board Chair of Credit Unions for Kids.

Chatzky opened by sharing the story of her son, who was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect at birth. Her son would have needed multiple surgeries to correct it, but thanks to the research done through the Children’s Miracle Network, her son was saved with only one. Chatzky praised the person her son has grown into and credited his chance to do so to the Children’s Miracle Network.

Credit Unions for Kids is a cooperative network of credit unions that support nonprofit children’s hospitals in the U.S. through the Children’s Miracle Network. Chatzky thanked the organization, noting that their financial support is what drives life-saving research such as in her son’s case. She then passed the mic off to Bratsakis, who had some exciting news to share.

“Now to recognize credit unions for all that you do and all the hard work you’ve done for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals across the country,” said Bratsakis, who then went on to say that Credit Unions for Kids had been considered for the annual Corporate Partner of the Year award given by Children’s Miracle Network.

However, Bratsakis noted that upon seeing all of the hard work that had been accomplished by the credit union movement, CMN decided to recognize our industry with a more prestigious award, the Founders Award. In its 40-year history, the Partner Award has only been given to six organizations that the credit union industry will now join the ranks of.

“This recognition tells the world what we already know, that credit unions are committed to our mission, structure, and purpose that puts the well-being of our communities above all else.”

Since 1996, credit unions have raised $200 million for the Children’s Miracle Network. The award will be presented at Children’s Hospital Week, April 8-11 in Orlando, Florida.

NCUA’s Kyle Hauptman reflects on key issues

Back on the topic of regulation, NCUA Vice Chairman Kyle Hauptman spoke with Ann Petros, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs at America’s Credit Unions on some of the major topics that have been cropping up throughout the week such as overdraft protection, as well as the end of his term, coming in August of this year.

Petros spoke of Hauptman’s priorities at the NCUA including expanding the role of technology for the purpose of financial inclusion as well as extended exam cycles for credit unions that meet certain qualifications. Petros asked Hauptman if he felt he had made significant headway on those issues during his time, to which he replied that he felt he had, but not as much as he would have liked, citing difference of opinion on the board as the reason why.

Hauptman also asked that credit unions record their exams, specifically, any advice given by the examiner as a means of assuring no misunderstandings or as a reference point to use down the road. “This isn’t 1850, we don’t need to argue about what was said.”

On the topic of financial inclusion, Petros then asked if Hauptman or the NCUA would consider adjusting certain rules, mentioning both field of membership rules and member business lending limits. Hauptman noted that many things are hard coded in the Credit Union Act and cannot be changed by the NCUA, but that specific dollar thresholds might be altered.

Hauptman quickly drew the topic back to technology, commenting on Petros’ earlier statement that Hauptman was particularly supportive of technological advancements. “I’m not supportive of specific technology, I’m supportive of credit unions doing what they’ve done for 100 years, which is finding ways to serve their members, and I’m not going to let us get in the way of it.”

On the topic of automation and FinTechs, Petros asked Hauptman if credit unions should be investing in those avenues and getting a slice of the pie, even though there are risks associated with such automation such as AI. To this, Hauptman replied, “It’s scary, of course it’s scary. With every new technology, it’s always two steps forward, one step back. There are always negatives. Did you know there were no plane crashes before we had planes? Automobiles kill thousands of people every year, but did anyone take a horse here today? No.”

Hauptman continued by saying that credit unions hold the spirit of innovation and that they had been innovating long before the NCUA or even the Credit Union Act came into being and he hoped they would continue to do so by partnering with FinTechs and new technology, adding that his desire to see this innovation was a major reason he was unsold on third-party vendor authority.

Finally, on consumer protection, Petros asked if the NCUA should be expanding its supervision of credit union compliance with consumer financial protection laws, and if so, what are the parameters by which to do so. In his answer, Hauptman cited the government efforts in the early 2000s to battle late fees from video stores like Blockbuster, but in the end, action was unnecessary, as Netflix came in, giving consumers a new option, and so Blockbuster fell. His point was that given a vigorous market, consumers have the option to move their business if necessary. The market will correct itself naturally without government intervention.

Hauptman closed with a quick and awkward, “I think we’re done here, right?” He then promptly left the stage without waiting for applause and without a word to his interviewer.

“I bet he’s a ton of fun at karaoke,” GAC host Mia Perez concluded.

Filene Research Institute offers consumer insight

Taylor Nelms, Senior Director of Marketing Insights and Advisory Services at the Filene Research Institute followed Hauptman’s exit, reminding credit unions that a key part of the Governmental Affairs Conference, in addition to advocacy, was to learn and discover new ways to better serve their members.

His brief presentation offered data on credit union members and non-members alike as well as the research done on various credit union strategies.

“If you leave today with only one thing from my presentation I want it to be this: to keep up in today’s very rapidly evolving financial services industry, credit unions like yours need faster and better insights into what your members want and need. Their core needs, attitudes, motivations, and expectations.”

Nelms shared that Filene’s research had found that credit unions that have member-focused strategies, that were targeted at their specific communities instead of trying to be all things for all people, performed better and grew faster. To help credit unions achieve this, Nelms offered some tips.

First, he noted that according to a survey done by Filene with 5,000 credit union members and 1,000 non-members there was virtually no difference between the two groups. Not with their needs, preferences, goals, demographic profiles, or what they are looking for from their financial institutions. So what does this mean? Nelms explains the significance of this research is that it proves credit unions have room to grow, and what they are offering their members will be attractive to others.

“In today’s financial service industry, which is more fragmented, more competitive, more commoditized and transactional than ever before, to cut through that noise, credit union members need to know who they are talking to.”

In closing, he urged credit unions to not just collect data but to take action on their data to reach their members where they are and better serve them, and to create a more personalized experience for the members.

Senator Mark Warner praises CDFIs and AI, and asks for support for Ukraine

In the final speech before the keynote speaker of the day, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia greeted the audience, joking about being the warm-up act to Shaun White and promising credit unions, as not to “lose his bona fides” with the crowd, that he was on the right side of the interchange issue.

In his speech, Senator Warner aimed to highlight three main issues. The first was the topic of CDFIs, which he noted were a great priority to him. Senator Warner said CDFIs were first brought to his attention when many communities in his home state were not getting served by financial institutions and again when many well-intentioned COVID programs to support small businesses were not reaching underserved communities. In an effort to correct this, he worked tirelessly to secure $12 billion for CDFIs across the country as well as starting a bipartisan CDFI Caucus in the Senate.

The second subject Senator Warner discussed was, in keeping with the theme of the week, artificial intelligence and how it will affect the entire financial sector. While stating that he is a huge supporter of AI and the belief that it can add tremendous value for financial institutions, he also acknowledged it comes with huge risks that the government needs to get ahead of by deciding across all regulatory regimes how to interact with and use AI.

Finally, speaking on an issue he noted did not directly relate to credit unions, Senator Warner called for the U.S. to stand in its promise to provide aid to Ukraine in the war against Russia. The aid, he said, was not only critical in staving off a larger war in Europe should Putin win in Ukraine, but also in showing that the U.S. honors its word and supports the strength of NATO. He asked credit unions to please raise the issue during their hill hikes should the opportunity present itself.

“If we don’t get this done quickly, we will look back at this as one of the historic mistakes of our time.”

Shaun White speaks on being a peak performer

The last speaker of the day, and the final speaker of the 2024 Governmental Affairs Conference, was Olympic gold medal-winning and snowboarding champion, Shaun White. Speaking with host Mia Perez, White shared the story of how he fell in love with snowboarding, despite being born with a heart defect that doctors claimed would keep him a lethargic homebody for most of his life, and the challenges he faced being a snowboarding professional at a time when snowboarding was not considered a serious or legitimate sport.

Entering the professional snowboarding space at age 13, when everyone around him was in their 20s, White talked about the days of being forced to wear snowsuits with bumblebees on them while trying to prove his skills to his competition and feeling like a small fish in comparison.

In response to Perez asking White what advice he has for becoming a peak performer in your field, White noted that consistency—such as listening to a favorite song before a run—was critical for him, but also that he worked specifically to separate himself from the pack and do what no one else in the field would do. If everyone was avoiding a difficult area on the hill, he would specifically aim for that area, knowing it would help him stand out.

It’s easy to apply White’s advice to the credit union industry, especially when it comes to underserved and unbanked areas. A great way to become a peak performer and set yourself apart is to go to the areas no one else will go.

However, White also stressed the importance of knowing when to say no, referencing his time at the Russian Olympics, when he refused to compete due to the dangerous conditions of the track. A move that earned him great criticism from the country.

“I had the longest career in this sport because I had the ability to walk away, and I knew what worked for me and what didn’t. That speaks to all parts of life. Knowing your path, knowing what you want to accomplish, and setting your boundaries can be difficult, but it is essential. We often want to be tough and push through, as it’s hard to speak up and go against the grain when people around you are championing the same thing, but I had to stay true to what I was feeling.”

White’s advice speaks to the opinions of not only Taylor Nelm’s presentation earlier but many other moments from the conference when they spoke against trying to be all things to all people. Know your credit union’s path, know your members, and know what you are going out to accomplish.

And with that, we have officially reached the end of GAC. But don’t despair! America’s Credit Unions has already announced the dates for the 2025 Governmental Affairs Conference, which will be March 2-6, 2025 in Washington D.C., so mark your calendars! Thank you all for joining us for our special reports this week, and we hope to see you next year!

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