WASHINGTON – CUNA's hiring last week of Bill Cheney, a former credit union CEO, as its new head may be a sign the trade association is moving away from its emphasis on congressional advocacy, the focus of former four-term U.S. Congressman Dan Mica during his 13 years at the helm.
"CUNA is not in the same position," Harriet May, chairman of the CUNA Board's CEO Search Committee and president of El Paso's GECU, said of the 1996 hiring of Mica at the outset of a major legislative battle over field of membership. She said the hiring of Cheney, a former director at NAFCU, is an effort at "unifying the entire movement" which often is split along CUNA/NAFCU lines.
In contrast to Mica when he was hired by CUNA, Cheney has broad experience in credit unions, first working for Arthur Anderson in Texas (his home state), then as an executive with Security Service FCU in San Antonio, before taking over as CEO of Xerox FCU in 1997. Along the way he has worked with the World Council of CUs and the American Association of CU Leagues, among other credit union groups.
Cheney cited his 25 years of work in the credit union movement as a way to bring a different perspective to the CUNA job. "This is an opportunity to represent credit unions throughout the country," he told Credit Union Journal. "I'm not a Washington insider, but I'm bringing a broader understanding of the credit union movement; this adds a whole new element."
But the hiring also is a gamble because of Cheney's connections to the corporate credit union meltdown that has spread billions of dollars in losses around the credit union movement.
Cheney was a director of U.S. Central FCU when it was taken under conservatorship by NCUA last year, and served on the board of WesCorp FCU – for which he is being sued by several California credit unions.
Cheney was the state leagues' representative on the seven-member U.S. Central board and served on the WesCorp board as representative of Xerox FCU. The dual roles means Cheney could attract negative publicity to CUNA and credit unions as the two big corporate failures play out.
Cheney acknowledged his service at the two corporate failures, but said that though he is named in the WesCorp suit he has yet to be served as an official defendant and noted that he served as the leagues' representative in the final months before the NCUA takeover.
"It is a little puzzling," Marvin Umholtz, a long-time credit union consultant and former executive at the Michigan CU League, said yesterday of Cheney's hiring. "If I was advising him I would say you need to address that early on in order to put it behind you."
May said the CUNA Board considered Cheney's role in the corporate situation when approving the hire but said all candidates had their negatives. "Bill, like every candidate, has issues," May told Credit Union Journal yesterday.
Cheney's hiring again will raise questions about merging NAFCU into CUNA. May said that was not a consideration in the Cheney hiring. But Mica continues to push for the combination of the two national trade groups, even alluding to it in March during his farewell remarks at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference.
Cheney and May on Wednesday said they believe it is important for credit unions to speak with one voice, but declined to advocate a NAFCU merger. "It's important for CUNA and NAFCU to work together on issues we agree on," Cheney said. "In the long term it's important for credit unions to have one voice in Washington. But that's not a decision for me to make. That's up to credit unions to decide."
NAFCU President Fred Becker, who worked with Cheney while the latter was on the board, said he send him a good-luck message after learning of the hire. "I look forward to working with him in partnership," said Becker.
CUNA will continue to pay Mica until January, when he is scheduled to retire. Mica will help Cheney with the transition until then.
BILL CHENEY BIO
March 1 2006-July 2010
President/CEO of California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues
President/CEO of Xerox FCU (now known as Xceed Finacnial), El Segundo, Calif.
Executive VP, Security Service FCU, San Antonio
Consulting Manager, Accenture
Other CU Organizations
Executive Board of the American Association of Credit Union Leagues; board of Richard Myles Johnson Foundation; management committees of Members Business Services and O'Rourke Career Connections; Chairman of the CUNA World Leadership Development Committee, member of the board of trustees of the Western CUNA Management School. Civic Organizations; member of NAFCU Board
Has served as director of the American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles; active in Heal the Bay and the Boy Scouts of America (Cheney is an Eagle Scout).
BBA-Finance, University of Texas, 1982. Has attended Advanced Leadership Institute at Harvard Business School (sponsored by CUES, California/Nevada league); CUES Directors Institute at London Business School
Wife, Crissy, two children