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Outgoing NCUA Chairman Matz Looks Back at Long Career

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Debbie Matz has spent a decade of her life working for the National Credit Union Administration. First, she was appointed as a board member by then President George W. Bush in 2002, and served for three years before leaving to work as EVP and COO of Andrews FCU in Suitland, Md.

Then, after working for President Barack Obama's transition team in 2008, Matz was appointed by the president as chairman of the board in 2009. Her seven-year tenure leading the three-member board has been shaped by controversies ranging from the industry-maligned Risk-Based Capital rule to how the agency establishes — and funds — its budget.

Having served as a holdover since her term expired last year, Matz will step down April 30. In a wide-ranging interview just days before leaving office, she shared with Credit Union Journal her greatest challenges, what she hopes to be remembered for and a glimpse of what her future holds.

Credit Union Journal: Can you share with us anything about your future plans? Anything related to the CU industry?

Debbie Matz: The first item on the agenda is some R&R. My husband and I are taking a trip to Paris and Normandy for a couple of months.

I love public policy and financial services, but I'm at a point where I don't want to be running a place — having to be somewhere every single day. But I do still enjoy a good challenge.

What do you consider to be your legacy at NCUA?

I think it's best to let others decide what they believe my legacy is. But the thing I hope I will be remembered for is working with credit unions to help get them through the downturn. Their recovery was even stronger than what I could have expected, and they've done a phenomenal job.

It took a lot of hard work at NCUA working with the stakeholders to make that happen. The agency worked to put the tools in place not only to help credit unions recover from that crisis but also to help them deal with downturns in the future.

I'm also really proud of NCUA's financial modernization efforts. We were able to move forward with 22 different regulatory relief measures to make it easier for credit unions to run their businesses and serve their members. Especially with regard to member business lending — it's really a whole new way of doing business, allowing credit unions to develop their own policies. Although this hasn't gone into effect yet, I believe we've lifted a great burden off of credit unions.

And there's also the settlements with the Wall Street firms (related to losses incurred by corporate credit unions that did business with these firms and eventually failed). We've recovered more than $3 billion and counting, with 11 lawsuits still pending.

What was your greatest challenge?

Clearly, my greatest challenge was stabilizing the credit union system after the Great Recession. Many credit union CEOs didn't understand or didn't accept the perilous condition of the system. There were a number of decisions we made where it really could have gone either way.

There is a tremendous closeness and cooperation among credit unions, which is, of course, one of the system's greatest strengths, but that also meant that many CEOs couldn't accept that some of their most esteemed colleagues had made bad decisions that put their own credit unions — and even the entire system — in real peril.

When I saw the list of credit unions in trouble — 351 natural person credit unions representing $51.6 billion of assets, some of them run by executives who were considered icons of the industry — I was astounded.

What is your greatest regret and/or anything you would do differently?

I don't really have any serious regrets, but I do regret that we didn't get to finalize the "Field of Membership" rule on my watch. It just took longer than we thought it would.

I also had hoped to propose supplemental capital, but it was more complicated. Every time we got close, someone else on staff would point out something else we needed to take into consideration, and then something else. And this is just too important to rush. We need to get it right.

As the only NCUA Board member to return for a second term, how was this term on the board different from your previous experience?

Certainly one key difference was the financial crisis, and I have to believe that's why President Obama asked me to serve as chairman — I was able to hit the ground running because I was already familiar with credit unions and with NCUA. But many things had changed since my first term (January 2002 to October 2005). There's more reliance on technology — we do business on our phones — and issues related to cybersecurity. And with that technology has come some disruptive competitors, such as marketplace lenders, who aren't regulated. I had much less of a learning curve coming back to NCUA, but certainly many things had changed.

Credit unions often wonder what happens behind the scenes at NCUA — what would they be surprised to learn?

I think a lot of credit unions think that we get to the board meeting, and we're making our decisions right then and there. They don't realize how much deliberation goes into it before we get there — working here within the agency, reaching out to stakeholders, there's a lot of deliberating that goes on before we get to the board meeting.

We're always looking at whether there's a better way to do something. When people from within the credit union industry come to work here, they're always surprised at how much deliberation and research goes on.

What have you learned from your experience at NCUA that will continue to serve you well in the future (both professionally and personally)?

It's important to take the long view and to do the right things for the right reasons, not just what is expedient — and to grow a thick skin.

What has been the best part about your tenure at NCUA?

Meeting with CU officials and volunteers. They always have such wonderful stories to share. They don't always talk about the big picture, but rather the things that will help them do their jobs and why they are passionate about doing their jobs.

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