By Frank J. Diekmann
James Brown won’t be at CUNA’s GAC this week (at least not the James Brown), which is too bad, since he wrote the anthem for this year’s meeting: “I Feel Good.” Instead, that James Brown classic will be on the lips of meeting attendees (and will be sung loudest by the two NCUA board members, as explained below).
Whoa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
You can just hear GAC-attendees and the NCUA reps singing the lyric (hopefully to themselves) as they fill the Washington convention center.
And why wouldn’t they? Credit unions as a whole just finished the kind of year that gets people up on their feet and dancing. Assets grew by $75 billion in 2018 to $1.45 trillion. The CU community’s loan portfolio just surpassed $1 trillion. And I haven’t even mentioned the three-quarters of a billion dollars refunded to CUs last year from the NCUSIF, and the additional $160 large-large coming in the second quarter.
Members are apparently singing, too.
When I hold you in my arms
I know that I can't do no wrong
Sorry, James, but forget “Coming to America.” It’s Coming to Credit Unions. Another 428,000 new members joined during December alone, bringing total membership growth to 5.1 million during the year and total membership overall to nearly 119 million, according to data just released by CUNA Mutual and CUNA. That’s 36.2% of the U.S. population, the kinds of numbers that turn heads in Washington where the only numbers that matter are votes or dollars. And credit unions have both.
Consumers’ Brand New Bag?
James Brown never recorded a song named Disruption, but he did famously release “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” which at the time it was recorded meant doing something in a different way. With everything going so well for all-but-the-smallest credit unions, the big crowd at GAC would be the perfect venue to pause for a few moments, look inward and ask whether Americans might someday get a brand new bag other than their credit union.
The question won’t be asked, of course. Just like when the economy is doing well it’s all about “we” and when it’s doing poorly it’s a “them” among D.C.’s politicians, trade groups are also in the business of making sure as much of the sheen rubs off on them, too.
I don’t need to tell you, but maybe a reminder is in order, that that’s the thing about success—it’s the leading cause of failure. There will always be competitors eager to help you on our trip down, although their assistance usually isn’t needed—the successful often press the down button themselves.
One thing we will hear plenty about from the main stage and the breakout sessions at GAC is “differentiation.”
If credit unions really are different, then here is the chance for CUs to put their mouths where their money literally is by asking the hard questions that banks won’t ask themselves. Is success changing us? As the credit union gets larger, does the individual member get smaller? What about the really small members, those who are struggling financially—do they disappear? Have you taken the mythical cigar box in which you were founded and thrown out the original reasons for being formed and replaced them with imported victory cigars?
As credit unions meet this week they will do so among landmarks billions of people around the world recognize, even if they’re unsure where Washington might be (sadly, that goes for many Americans, too). To many of those people, those who are striving to be free, to have opportunities, to pull themselves up–those aren’t landmarks, they’re ideals. They are a beacon.
Still a Beacon?
Credit unions are a beacon for many Americans who are struggling financially, a point made crystal clear—how appropriate—by the recent federal shutdown when so many American families were plunged into trouble with their first missed paycheck.
As everyone reading this knows, the first credit union in the U.S. was formed by immigrant factory workers in New Hampshire who built their own beacon. Are you a beacon? Would you still serve those people if they walked into a branch today? Or are you too successful?
In 1968, James Brown released “I’ve Got a Feeling.” What’s yours?
Greatest Swan Song Ever?
Meanwhile, James Brown may have been the King of Soul, but has any soul who’s also an NCUA board member ever sung a greater swan song at GAC than Rick Metsger? No, and that includes one NCUA board member who was actually named Swan.
As CUToday.info has reported, Metsger’s term on the NCUA board will be coming to an end as soon as the full Senate approves the nominations of Todd Harper (to fill Metsger’s seat) and Rodney Hood (to fill the vacant seat).
When Metsger appears at GAC this week he will do so with the agency having just announced another $160 million is being returned to credit unions from the NCUSIF, as noted above. And that comes after the $735 million refund in 2018.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence the board announced the extra dividend for 2019 in advance of GAC, even though it’s a decision that usually would have been reserved for the agency board meeting that comes after GAC.
Even without the refunds, both Metsger and fellow board member and Chairman J. Mark McWatters would have gotten a lot more than just courtesy applause following several years of generally delivering on what credit unions have been asking for in expanded powers and deregulation.
Of course, both board members, but especially Metsger who was also previously chairman during the Obama administration, have had to face some tough audiences during their terms, so why not sing the federal regulator version of “I Feel Good” when you can?
One of the ancient laugh/groan lines from speakers in Washington during GAC is the old saw, “I’m from Washington and I’m here to help.” Mr. McWatters and Mr. Metsger may be the first ever to say, “I’m from Washington and I’m here with a check.”
Frank J. Diekmann is Cooperator in Chief at CUToday.info. He can be reached at Frank@CUToday.info or followed at @FrankCUToday.