As credit union flock to Washington this week for CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference, the focus will be on national politics. But there's plenty of internal politics to discuss, as well.

Every now and again, CUNA reexamines its structure and governance, and that time has come again. The largest CU trade association got started on its latest bout of self-exploration when it appointed a restructuring task force in September, just before Jim Nussle came on board as the new CEO in October. 

A Work in Progress

I recently talked with Tom Dorety, chairman of the task force that is studying CUNA's structure, to ask him a bit about the process.

"Our goal is to get as much information from CUNA members and potential members about the issues that are important to them," said Dorety, a former CUNA chairman. "We're meeting with credit union CEOs, league CEOs, focus groups."

CUNA also put out a survey last month that covered a multitude of topics, from the dual league/CUNA membership requirement and how many board members the group should have (and what that makeup should be), to the types of services CUs need from their trade associations and whether the movement would be better served by just one national group.

"The task force will gather in mid-March to go over the survey results and start to forunate where we want to go," Dorety said. "Then in mid-April we'll have another in-person meeting to do some more heavy lifting."

A final report to the board is expected later this summer, he said.

"There's a lot of support for the CUNA structure the way it is," Dorety said. "A lot of associations wish they had our structure; it's the envy of other trade associations."

Still, following its "Renewal" effort in the late 1990s, CUNA determined it should review its structure every five years. "And we've done that," Dorety explained. "But we just felt we needed to do a more formal review now. With thousands of credit unions gone, consolidation at the credit union and league level, we want to ensure we are doing the best we can.

"We are not in the middle of a crisis, but we are in the middle of drastic change," he continued. "So we want to be proactive about how best to proceed."

The good thing about not doing this in the middle of a crisis is that it allows a more deliberative, forward-thinking process, rather than reacting — and possibly overreacting — to a calamity.

Though the timing of this effort happens to dovetail with the hiring of Jim Nussle as CUNA CEO and his 1CUNA initiative aimed at better aligning CUNA Madison and CUNA Washington, the one doesn't have to do with the other — though certainly the advent of a new CEO often presages some serious housekeeping. 

Who's Driving the Bus?

"This was being discussed a good 18 months ago, even before [CommunityAmerica CU CEO] Dennis Pierce was chairman," and before former CEO Bill Cheney stepped down, Dorety related. "In fact, I'm not sure Dennis would have taken the job had he known Cheney was leaving. Jim Nussle will participate in this effort, but he is not driving it."

Who should be driving it? Every single credit union out there. At what is sure to be the largest concentration of credit union executives in one place at one time, CUs should take a breather from national politics to discuss some of these internal political issues.

And then they need to remember who they're least likely to hear from: credit unions who can't afford to send someone to GAC and/or don't belong to CUNA.

Editor in Chief Lisa Freeman can be reached at