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Say It Ain't So, Joe CEOs: It's High Time For Speaking Out

Legend has it that as baseball great Shoeless Joe Jackson was leaving the courthouse during the 1920 Black Sox scandal, a young boy begged of him, "Say it ain't so, Joe!"

It appears to this writer that this young lad's famed plea has found its way into the strategic "play book" of our paid and elected leadership (the trade groups). Look at how quickly they mounted a rally cry using a variety of channels asking credit union CEOs to confirm (by their silence) that there are no issues between credit unions and their regulator, NCUA. They should have all simply declared that "pigs can fly" — it would have been more believable!

It is this very contrite mindset of our paid and elected leaders that repeatedly subjects us to more of the same, ineffective political posturing we have too long suffered. The belief CUs should "play along to get along" should disqualify these people forever from representing us, for it is the root of our industry's political shortcomings. I ask you, why should NCUA change their position on anything if our own political water boys are painting the pigskin with lipstick and keeping CEOs reasonably calm? How can we trust, as our trades suggest, that it is "better to deal with the devil we know then the one we don't?"

NCUA's First Concern? Itself

NCUA has become a bureaucracy concerned more about perpetuating its own survival than those it is charged to oversee. Frankly, this CEO is ready to deal with any regulator that will stop driving us to our demise and understands they owe a duty to look out for the health and well-being of our entire industry. I respectfully ask you-how have the politics of our trades worked out for your CU lately? Why should we believe them when they say-don't worry, it will work out for us next time?

One of my peers once said to me, "Tom, the world is run by those who show up." I agree. The fact is our trade association leaders bank on their own viewpoints prevailing, because they know that the majority of CEOs will submit a vote of silence. You see, they interpret and tally all abstentions (such as your silence) as a vote of support for whatever their viewpoint or flavor of the month advocacy issue happens to be.

Unfortunately, too many CEOs are silent, but not due to apathy; it is because they are too busy trying to run their over-regulated business day-to-day or too busy digging out from unwilling or failed attempts by our leaders to strike down an overwhelming tide of compliance requirements. And some are just hunkered down trying to do a good job of serving members' needs. After all, that is our sole purpose for being here, right? Then, for many small and mid-size credit unions, it is simply cost-prohibitive to get actively involved.

Why is it, if our leaders truly want our opinions, and it doesn't appear to me that they do, haven't they gotten proactive and introduced new channels to increase and enhance our collective "voice" through conversation, discussion, and open debate? Real leadership would reach out to embrace these new innovative channels, not fear and try to stifle them. Real leaders would "get" how much louder our industry message would resonate with regulators and congressional leaders if it truly represented all credit union stakeholders. Real leaders would be agents for change, not messengers of the status quo.

The Opportunity To 'Show Up'

As I have previously opined, I applaud and support Randy Karnes at CU*Answers for encouraging us to speak with a more collective "voice," one that represents the many, as opposed to the few! (CU Journal, Jan. 3).

Perhaps you agree with the entire message being advocated, or, maybe you don't-the more important value offered here is the opportunity for all of us to "show up" and contribute to the dialogue so our CU leaders are armed with a message of unity.

I worry that absent any significant change in our advocacy approach and lacking a few "wins" in our CU column whether our patriots-the CEOs, who have been doing the heavy lifting in their CUs each day--will become battle weary. Battle fatigue will cause many a beleaguered CEO to just give up, quit and retreat feeling "defeated." If this happens, then all is lost and we will all be left to echo the sentiment of the young lad who proclaimed, "Say It Ain't So, Joe!"

Thomas M. Miller, President & CEO
Affinity Group CU, Pontiac, Mich.

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