In this line of work, if there is a perk it's getting to meet a lot of important people who have worked their way to the top of credit unions, associations, government positions and various causes. Sometimes (actually, often), that perk comes with a dose of disappointment, as you learn while interviewing someone that they got to where they are not because of the interesting things they have to say, but instead because of their ability to talk while actually not saying anything at all.
Those disappointments are more than offset, however, when you have a chance to sit down with someone who not only has something insightful to say, but actually says it. John Annaloro is one of those people. Annaloro has just retired after 15 years as CEO of the Washington CU League and then the Northwest CU Association, which was formed when the WCUL merged with the Oregon league.
Prior to moving to the Pacific Northwest, Annaloro spent time at the California league and, prior to that (and longer ago than I'd like to admit), with Mission FCU in San Diego, where I first met him when I was being given a tour of that credit union.
During his career, Annaloro was known for many accomplishments, including championing a very strong state charter in Washington. But in an e-mail, Annaloro told me that he has been "unfairly attributed with many things that were in reality staff accomplishments, manifestations of excellent board vision, and collaborations with progressive-thinking regulatory policy makers."
Annaloro said the Northwest has been lucky to have "some exceptional regulators" and that he has "benefitted from collegial relations with a number of smart local policy engineers and NCUA board members over the years who themselves suggested a path to opening new charter options."
About Those NCUA Board Members
Annaloro, who is known for a sense of humor that accompanies his passion, added that "Although they may want to disavow, many current and past NCUA board members are future-thinkers, but professional constraints obviously limit their activism."
As he retired earlier this month, Annaloro shared some of his views in the NWCUA's Anthem newsletter, excerpts from which he agreed to allow me to share with readers of Credit Union Journal.
Below, Annaloro's thoughts on:
* The 40,000-foot-view and lessons learned. "I've had a lot of high-level positions. And I've always learned that being as nice as you can, and doing the most you can-not the least you can get away with-is the best management practice.
"This is a unique time for financial services. We've had this global crisis. The industry was tested. The credit union sector proved to be the strongest portion of the American sovereign financial system. It may be the strongest globally, and we proved our worth, our strength, the value to the American economy."
* On leadership and management style. "I was hired not to be a representative of what is, but to be sensitive to the needs of the industry and lead from the future tense; to take care of what needs to be. That means taking care of the institutions' needs and the dreams of our credit unions and their business aspirations, the professional aspirations of our CEO community who are moving up and building increasingly larger staffs, and at the same time, being entrusted by the regulatory community [with] the material shortcomings of the charter, in rule and statute, and being expected to do something about them.
"That's kept me busy, worried about tomorrow and maybe not so much about today.
"Maybe that's where I 'm a little different. I am not as distracted by the managerial things. I have surrounded myself with talented staff capable of taking care of those things, which in turn frees me to do more than I might otherwise."
* On being described by one person as an "excellent mentor." "It's sort of the incumbent responsibility of every generation of industry participants in the regulated sectors of American business to move the operating environment to make sure that the governing principles, the activities, the framework that we operate in is kept contemporary-and it can't be done by yourself. It has to be done in partnership with your board of that sets a progressive strategic plan that makes it clear that that's what the association stands for, that credit unions affiliate with this vision.
"Oftentimes, when there's a fork or an alternative path that is presented, you have no place else to go except the board of directors, and say, 'We have these two solutions. What do you think? We can go this way or that.'"
* On being described as the "father of the open FOM." "The issue is one of self-determination of cooperative financial institutions-in fact, any business entity-and self-determination as defined by the right of any well-run credit union to make its own decisions in its own board room about who it's going to serve, and how it's going to serve them, and the product array.
"And it's not about the competition or the credit union down the street or the Congress or the courts to define what a well-run business that's legally chartered should be doing and define their business future.
"There's nothing in safety and soundness tenets that require a narrow field of membership. Actually, that presents certain forms of concentration risks...And we moved beyond that restriction. There's really nothing in contemporary finance that can't be done on a people-first, not-for-profit basis, so the charter limitations are senseless."
* On advice for up-and-comers. "You know, I worry about some of the younger professionals. They are coming up in an industry that is a bit crueler and much more demanding than the environment I came up through the credit union system in.
"The regulatory expectation [and] the technical requirements are much more demanding, and what had to give way are some issues regarding philosophy, relation to members, the historical tenets of the credit union system and the social mission. I'm hoping that we can get to a more comfortable time so that we can let the people who are coming up through the system reunite with all of those people-first philosophies that have made the credit union system so special.
"We have a social mission as well as a financial mission, and keeping that embodied in the credit union system of tomorrow is really important. And I hope we get there."
Values & Monkeys
* On what he will miss the most. "The professional friendships are real. And they are national and global. I'm united with people across the country who share a concern and pride in this industry, who know they work for something clean and green and healthy and wholesome, believe in the mission, believe in the benefit that we provide. I do have great friends and colleagues who I don't see often but who share a similar value system."
* On his plans. "Monkey business. And if not too unduly influenced by monkeys, I will return to some semblance of sanity and join my friends at a later date.
"However, if I show up on their doorstep with monkeys, please don't let me in."
Actually, here's hoping that if Annaloro does choose to get reinvolved in credit unions, that the door is held open, monkeys nor not.
Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at email@example.com.