CUs Must 'Unite For Good' While Working To Save Tax Exemption

Throughout America's Credit Union Conference this week, participants will see wide and varied reference to two crucial initiatives CUNA is currently pursuing: Unite for Good and Don't Tax My Credit Union.

The former is the catchphrase for efforts to develop and install a strategic, shared vision: "Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner."

The latter is a program to convince Congress to preserve the tax exemption by CUs acting now, and in the coming weeks and months, through contacts with lawmakers carrying a clear and simple message.

At first glance, these initiatives may seem entirely unrelated. But closer inspection quickly reveals that these, along with some other programs that CUNA has initiated with leagues and credit unions, are vital and complementary concepts.

Let me explain: "Unite for Good" works toward three goals in realizing the strategic vision: Remove barriers, create awareness and foster service excellence.

* "Remove barriers" means simply to remove those obstacles in statute and regulation that prevent us from better serving current and potential members-such as limits on member business lending and more flexibility in how CUs can build capital. We can do that by actively participating in credit union grassroots activities and the political, legislative and regulatory processes.

* "Create awareness" is straightforward: It refers to expanding credit unions' outreach and image in the community by (among other things) reaching out to local press, participating in state and local credit union advertising campaigns, financial literacy programs and more.

* "Foster service excellence" challenges credit unions to offer a complete set of forward-looking and constantly improving financial services to members of all backgrounds and life stages.


A Direct Relationship

Clearly, the actions credit unions can take in "removing barriers"-that is, participating in grassroots, political and legislative processes-have a direct relationship to efforts in the "Don't Tax My Credit Union" initiative. This effort is totally focused on developing as many contacts as possible in Congress as the tax reform debate gears up with the message.

But there are other interrelationships between "Don't Tax" and "Unite for Good." Clearly, one is to "create awareness."

CUNA's research clearly shows that members support their credit unions. Sixty-four percent of all members say that they would stand with their credit union in a policy disagreement between credit unions and banks. That's not a bad showing.

In short: To know a credit union is to like a credit union. But our research also just as clearly indicates that, the more members who know about-and the more they use their credit unions-the greater their support. We asked those members who called a credit union their "primary financial institution" the same question about who they stand with in a policy disagreement.

The response: 93% of our loyal members said they would stand with their CU.

Now, consider this: There are in excess of 40 million PFI credit union members across the country-and nearly all of them tell us that they are with us.

Imagine the barriers that could remove with this level of support. Imagine the strength we can count on to tell Congress "Don't Tax My Credit Union." And, if we can build that number of loyal members-by creating awareness and fostering service excellence-to 50 million members, or more, just think what more we could accomplish.

We just have to ask these members for their support, and so far the support is expanding. As of last week, more than 120,000 contacts had been made with lawmakers urging them not to tax credit unions. Further, nearly a quarter-million users of Facebook and Twitter have seen our online campaign about our tax-exemption preservation initiative.


A Clear Imperative

The imperative for this effort is clear. Key members of Congress are talking-right now-about tax reform.

The more noise we can make about our tax exemption and the imperative for continuing it, the better chance we have in tamping down, and eliminating, further talk about losing our tax status.

But we still have a long way to go-which is another important point about these two initiatives: The final results for these two projects will be best measured not after days, weeks or months, but after years.

In fact, "Unite for Good" seeks measurable results of 50 million PFI members and total annual benefit returned to members of $20 billion attained by 2023.

No matter what the timeline turns out to be is for either of these initiatives, the effort that we put into reaching the goals of each, individually or together, can make credit unions stronger in terms of our future.

And that's worth waiting for.

Bill Cheney is president/CEO of CUNA.