Devils & Reverends, Fastballs & Slowing Down

Some observational souvenirs picked up in various airport gift shops. And before you ask, no, I didn't save the receipts and you won't be getting a refund.

• In the 1500s the Roman Catholic Church created the "Devil's Advocate," a lawyer appointed to argue against the canonization of a particular candidate. The post existed until 1983, when the Church seemingly laid off the Devil's Advocate. But don't worry, he's apparently back at work. During the CFO Council meeting in Ft. Lauderdale, David Tuyo of Pen-Air FCU said at his CU a "Devil's Advocate" is placed in different meetings and is charged with challenging and "tearing apart everything we are discussing."

Tuyo also put things into perspective when he said his rather sizeable and successful credit union is still just 2.5% the size of Navy Federal, which itself is just 2.5% the size of Bank of America.

• At that same meeting, the Honesty in Speaking Award went to Tom Farin of Farin Associates, who shared his observation that many CUs' pricing decisions come down to SWAG, which as he explained stands for "Scientific Wild Ass Guess."

• Apparently at least one cab driver has had it with cleaning up after fares who've had too much to drink. I saw this sign in the back of a taxi in Atlanta: "If you yack in this hack, be prepared to pay it back. $150 clean-up fee plus cab fare."

• NCUA has an Office of Minority and Women, the function of which is to promote diversity. So I'm at the agency's recent Listening Session in Orlando and looking at its senior management team (see photo, below), and thinking, Hmmmm...

• One of the best keynote speakers I've heard in a while was Jim Morris, immortalized in the movie "The Rookie," who spoke to the CU Association of New York's recent meeting in Bolton Landing, N.Y. The movie was based on his true, inspiring story of being a Texas teacher in his mid-30s who fulfills a promise he made to students to go to a pro baseball tryout. His 90-mph-plus fastball got him a contract, and he eventually made it to the bigs. But first, he went to the minors, and recalled, "I took a paycut to play minor league ball. If you take a paycut from teaching, you are poor."

• Perhaps I'm the only one who finds this amusing in a morbid sort of way, but in Pacific Beach, Calif. drove past an establishment that had lost the "S" from its sign, creating the "unRise Retirement Facility."

• During CUNA's America's Credit Union Conference in San Diego, Credit Union Journal's booth was located near that of another company where the woman working the booth spent the entire trade show reading "Fifty Shades of Grey."

• And while we're on the topic, at the Texas CU League's Volunteers Forum outside Houston, there was a session titled, "50 Shades of Grey: What Keeps Your CEO up at Night?" Not sure what's going on in Texas, but it was a panel discussion.

• And while we're on the topic 2.0, it isn't just CUs responding to big banks. Outside Houston I saw one community bank's billboard for "IHateMyBigBank.com" (you can see the image at upper right).

• Many people believe in credit unions. And then there are people who believe in credit unions. That's why the National Federation of CDCUs' annual meeting is always one of the most spirited and invigorating you can attend. At its recent event in Atlanta it was noted that lending may be down, but not at CDCUs. Even during the recession, CDCUs grew lending 11% from December 2007 to December 2009.

Meanwhile, over the past two years, the Federation has added 60 credit unions as members. In all, Federation CUs represent more than two-million people in 44 states.

• CUNA President Bill Cheney told CDCUs that despite the generally limited assets they have advantages many larger credit unions envy. In particular, an exemption from the 12.25% MBL cap (which Cheney referred to as "ridiculously arbitrary), and access to secondary capital.

Meanwhile, two days after NCUA Chairman Debbie Matz told CUs in Florida that the agency will be increasing the asset size definition used to define a "small" credit union, Cheney made it clear where he stands on the issue.

"People are talking about going from $10 million to maybe $50 million," said Cheney, "and we're saying 'Why don't you start with $100 million?' Do you know how they identify a small bank in Washington? Smaller than $10 billion. Half the credit unions in this country are $20 million or less. Should we have a regulatory system that disadvantages half the credit unions in this country?"

• One thing I always enjoy about Federation meetings is how into it the audience members can be. It's like being transported to a revival the way attendees call out "amens" and "uh-huhs" in response to speakers. If you didn't know who Bill Cheney was, you no doubt would have thought he was the Reverend Bill.

• Before closing, a reminder to take time and enjoy the conversations in life.

At the Federation meeting in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of bumping into Tom Connors, a board member with America First Credit Union in Utah. I've known Tom for some time and talked and laughed with him at meetings around the world. He was always enthusiastic about the credit union cause (he hailed from a billion-dollar CU but was at a meeting of some of the smallest CUs in the country) and was consistently upbeat, which you might not expect from a guy who was a former master sargeant in the Air Force.

Mr. Connors, 72, died shortly after returning home from Atlanta. His credit union's loss was all credit unions' loss.

And it will be a lesson lost for all of us if we don't remember to pause and enjoy some of the great people around us.