ARLINGTON, Va.—National Association of State Credit Union Supervisors President and CEO Mary Martha Fortney should be making her victory lap around Capitol Hill, but she's too busy seeing to the future of this unique trade organization before she retires at the end of the year.
Fortney told Credit Union Journal she knows she leaves NASCUS in very good hands with Lucy Ito, who recently started work at the trade group so the two can work side-by-side on the transition. But it's still a bittersweet departure.
The 20-year veteran shares her insights, memories and her hope for the future in this CU Journal "Exit Interview."
CUJ: How did you first get involved with the credit union movement?
Fortney: I formerly worked for U.S. Rep. Caroll Hubbard (D-Ky) from 1980 to 1992. Having been involved with the House Banking Committee, I knew [NASCUS' previous CEO] Doug Duerr when he worked as a lobbyist for the California Credit Union League and CUNA. When my boss lost his reelection bid, I joined NASCUS. It was a three-person staff back then in 1993.
CUJ: All trade associations have different constituencies they have to balance, but NASCUS is unique in that its members include both state regulators and members of the industry they regulate and has the Credit Union Advisory Board. How do you balance the needs of those two, sometimes-opposed constituencies?
Fortney: We are unique. We are the association of the regulator and the regulated. The best way to manage that is to listen to what your members are asking and then try to dialogue between them. We have candid, open and honest discussions, and when we do, that tension has really gone away. And it's not just the regulators and credit unions, either. CU*Answers is a member, as well. This has worked for us. NASCUS will celebrate 50 years next year.
CUJ: What would you consider to be the top highlights during your tenure at NASCUS?
Fortney: One would have to be HR 1151 (the Credit Union Membership Access Act, which allowed federal credit unions to continue serving multiple common bonds following a Supreme Court ruling that would have limited CUs to serving members with a single common bond). It was important for lawmakers to see that NASCUS was committed to having a strong federal charter. I remember lawmakers asking us, "why are you here?" And we told them that although we're not really impacted by all of this, we feel strongly that we all have a vested interest in a dual-chartering system with a strong federal charter.
Clearly, UBIT (Unrelated Business Income Tax) is another. It was NASCUS' position that both state and federal charters shouldn't have to pay taxes on products they offer. To have two victories against the IRS was huge, and getting the memorandum issues to IRS agents, that was really, really important. That was a major battle and a major victory for us.
Reaching consensus on supplemental capital is another one. NASCUS was the lone wolf crying out in the wilderness about the need for supplemental capital. We were gradually joined by CUNA and NAFCU and got some consensus at NCUA, as well. There's still work to be done on this front, but just the fact that we've reached this consensus is a win.
Obviously, we've had some success with NCUA where the federal regulator has listened to state regulators and agreed not to preempt the states.
CUJ: The hardest part about leaving is knowing there's still work to be done. What do you see as challenges for NASCUS and the credit union movement in the future?
Fortney: There's a lot of concern about the regulatory burden credit unions face. What people don't remember, though, is a lot of regulations aren't just from the NCUA. On the state side, regulators try to understand and manage the very real consequences of the regulatory burden.
One thing NASCUS would like to see is for NCUA to combine all of the insurance rules, which are currently mixed throughout, into one place. It would be a really positive step to consolidate them into one location. But it would also be a really, really big job.
CUJ: What's next for you?
Fortney: I'm not exactly sure what the next chapter is, but there will be another chapter. I am involved with Women in Housing and Finance, Inc., and I will continue serving on that board.
CUJ: What will be your legacy?
Fortney: I hope my legacy is that NASCUS is the voice of the state credit union system, knowing that there's always room for future growth; that NASCUS is an association that was always upfront with its position. Our value to our members is much more noticed than it was in years past.
This has been a journey, and a lot of people have contributed to where we are. I hope we've given people things to think about. I received an email from one of the state regulators the other day that said, "you've made me a better regulator." That is powerful.
CUJ: Any words of wisdom for credit union advocates?
Fortney: The people who are involved in credit unions are a brand unto themselves. They are the most dedicated and involved people I've met, and I met a lot of different constituents when I worked on Capitol Hill. Credit unions started in the states, with a rich and vibrant history. There have been and will be bumps in the road, but I feel very optimistic. I envision a safe and sound movement long into the future. Keep doing what you're doing for the good of your members.