Defense Credit Union Council Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Ever have most of your members just pack up and leave town overnight? That's just one of the challenges of being a CU serving the military and one of the challenges the Defense Credit Union Council tries to help its member CUs to meet.

This week the Defense Council will be celebrating its golden anniversary with an annual conference at the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. The DCUC was born 50 years ago in the Mayflower Hotel in Washington to represent credit unions that have a facility on a military base in the U.S. or overseas. Today it has 208 members (out of an estimated eligible 225 CUs).

"I always describe the DCUC as being 10 miles deep with the Department of Defense," said its president/CEO Arty Arteaga. "We work very carefully with the DoD and the Undersecretary of Defense Comptroller, and with liaisons at each of the branches of the military, and it's been a great and effective relationship."

A Heavier Pack

The need for relationships is critical given that defense CUs have to carry a heavy pack others do not; specifically, additional DoD rules and regs every credit union serving the military must follow. The DCUC also finds itself having to step in on behalf of its member CUs when other institutions attempt to serve base personnel in violation of the "one bank, one credit union" rule the DoD codified in 2000 that limits military installation to just that.

Credit unions serving the military are some of the largest in the world, including $54 billion Navy Federal and $15.8 billion Pentagon FCU, yet they frequently deal with some of the lowest paid and financially naïve members. Outside the gates of most military bases, for example, there are many payday lenders and pawn shops standing at attention and looking to grab a new service member with that first paycheck in hand.

"The DoD has a rule that we must provide free financial education and training to all members, and we would do that even if there wasn't a rule," said Arteaga, who spent 28 years in the Army, retiring as a colonel. "We do it whenever we are asked, and that's the issue, whenever we are asked. Over the last 10 years, with all the deployments, time has really become a valuable commodity. When troops come to us, we help. The key to preventing predatory lending is financial education. The DoD needs to provide time for education, and credit unions can provide the tools and resources."

When it comes to education, Arteaga strongly urges defense CUs to "get away from what I call death by PowerPoint. These young solders, and sailors and airmen are very technology driven; they don't want to see a PowerPoint. My message is to get in front of the troops and to be creative. You only have so many minutes, and you need to decide how best to use those minutes."

The old saw about the military may be that it's "hurry up and wait," but as Arteaga noted, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made time even more precious.

"Deployments are the big issue. Since 9/11, troops have been almost constantly deployed," he said. "If you are on a base and 16,000 soldiers pick up and deploy, if that credit union does not have a community field of membership, then that credit union is going to lose quite a bit. Supporting the needs of troops who are deployed has also been quite a challenge, but technology certainly has helped. Technology means the situation is not as grave as it used to be."

That isn't all that isn't what it used to be. The DCUC expects to see its numbers decline, albeit slowly. Offering words you don't often hear, Arteaga acknowledges, "Growth is not in our vision. If there is another round of closures, the CUs on those bases will not be there." The closures are the result of a shrinking military budget as Washington wrestles with the deficit. A $52 billion automatic cut is scheduled to go in effect on Oct. 1 should Congress not act.

All of that has meant DCUC has had to continue to "evolve," said Arteaga, who has led DCUC for 11 years. "Our membership shrinks as the DoD shrinks. There have been five rounds of base closures so far."

Aloha & Guten Tag

Despite the hardships, morale is key in the military and Arteaga anticipates morale will be strong when hosts what he called a "huge crowd" at the Greenbrier this week, with attendees traveling from as far as Hawaii and Germany to be on hand. DCUC has commissioned a hardbound book, "DCUC 1963-2013: A Historical Perspective," to mark the occasion.

"Certainly as a board we are discussing what the future holds. We believe there will always be a DoD and we will always be a niche trade association," Arteaga said. "We want to stay strong and be an expert for our credit unions on these bases and we plan to do so for many, many years to come. There is no doubt there will be a DCUC 50 years from now."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.