As Olympics Begin, Don't Forget To Also Carry Credit Union Torch

This week, the elite athletes from 205 nations are gathering in London to compete for top honors in the 2012 Olympics. Likewise, thousands of top credit union professionals are gathering in Nashville for NAFCU's 45th Annual Conference and Exhibition, where they will represent their credit unions and hone their skills with the industry's best and brightest.

Like the Olympic athletes, I feel fortunate to be part of a great team-NAFCU. During the last two years as NAFCU Chair I was in the bullpen to watch up close as all the legislative and regulatory activity affecting our industry unfolded in real time. I had the opportunity to testify before Congress and provide the credit union viewpoint in meetings with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Credit Union Administration, the Federal Reserve, and other regulators.

More than anything else, this experience has shown me how important it is for all of us in the credit union community to be part of the bigger team beyond our individual credit unions.

Given today's complex financial services landscape, credit unions are facing a daunting number of legislative, regulatory and operational challenges and changes. These issues are evolving at a break-neck pace and it is imperative that we stay informed and stay involved. Every voice is vital to ensure that the credit union perspective is heard and heeded in Washington.

Additionally, it is clear that our new reality is an ever-changing business environment that will require each of us to be vigilant against continuing competitive challenges to our market position. Sitting on the sidelines is simply not an option if we want our industry to continue to thrive.

Must Keep Training
As is the case with world-class competitors, credit unions have a solid foundation of good practices. But in order to continue competing at the highest level, we must continue "training." Complacency must be taken off the menu if we are to sustain the extraordinary level of confidence that we have inspired from our members, consumers and policymakers over the years. The record number of members and praise that we have garnered in the last year speaks volumes about the high expectations that people have for our industry.

In the first quarter of 2012 credit union assets reached $1 trillion for the first time as a direct result of more people choosing membership in credit unions. Many attribute this growth to Bank Transfer Day. That may have provided the impetus for the initial switches to credit unions, but we are continuing to gain new members and getting them to stay with us because of our exceptional service and products. Indeed, credit unions ranked in the Top Three of companies earning high marks for customer satisfaction in the 2012 Temkin Customer Service Ratings survey of 10,000 U.S. consumers that covered 174 companies in 18 industries.

There is still plenty of opportunity for us to keep improving and continue to attract new members. About 11% of consumers surveyed in Javelin's 2012 Financial Institutions (FI) Vulnerability Index indicated they are likely to switch primary financial institutions in the coming year. The perception of greater convenience at banks is what keeps them from switching to a credit union. That is why we need to keep driving home our value proposition.

Carrying The Torch
Perhaps Peter Shankman, Ironman, author, entrepreneur, and speaker, captures it best in this popular running quote, "Somewhere, right now, someone is training while you are not. When you race him, he will win." Similarly, we must continue to refine our game plan if we are to remain in the forefront.

Without question, now is the perfect time to become a champion for our industry. This week in Nashville we will showcase the industry's best. And come September, NAFCU's Congressional Caucus gives us the opportunity to gain a better understanding of our industry's issues, while advancing our cause with the nation's policymakers.

It is more important than ever that we carry the torch for the credit union industry. While we may sometimes get weary from the legislative and regulatory gymnastics we have had to endure in recent years, this is a race of inches, not miles, and it is the strength of our credit union team that will sustain us over the long haul and help us all reach the finish line.

Michael N. Lussier, president and CEO of Webster First FCU, Worcester, Mass., is NAFCU chair and may be reached at 800-962-4452.