They call it "lame duck" for a reason: these birds won't fly.
Both CUNA and NAFCU scurried to urge lawmakers to pass several different credit union-backed initiatives in the waning days of the 113th Congress, also known as the "lame-duck session" because some of its current members won't be coming back when the 114th Congress convenes in January.
The problem is, it takes a lot to get a lame duck to take wing. That's why they're called lame. There's simply too little time — and too little incentive — to light the proverbial fire under the proverbial duck.
But that doesn't mean the credit union trade associations are naively pressing for action where there is likely to be very little movement. Rather, NAFCU and CUNA recognize the importance of repetition.
There's a marketing rule of thumb that suggests it takes a good six times of a person seeing the same message before that person actually gets the message. Nowhere is this more true than in Congress.
Or, as someone who was born and raised in the Chicago area, it's sort of like the old saw about how Chicagoans vote: early and often.
While I think it's unlikely we're going to see a passel of credit union-friendly bills get passed in the finals hours of the 113th Congress, I think it's wise for the credit union trades to be keep repeating their messages right down to the wire. And then just keep right at it, even as they gear up to hammer away at the 114th Congress come January.
An Invitation from the Enemy?
On page 6 of this issue, a community banker urges credit unions to band together with community banks in a coordinated effort to go after the mega banks.
Getting past the knee-jerk "we hate banks" reaction will be no mean feat. And it raises some interesting questions.
Over the years, I've heard some suggest that the big banks don't really worry that much about CUs, and that it's really the community banks who push for going after the tax exemption. Those adhering to this school of thought believe that CUs pose a much greater competitive risk to community banks than they do to the big banks. They suggest that because community banks have far more in common with credit unions than do the mega banks, they have far more to lose at the hands of credit unions than do the big boys.
But Liberty Bank for Savings SVP Marketing Kevin Tynan suggests that it is because credit unions and community banks have so much more in common that they should actively come together in a concerted, anti-mega bank marketing blitz promoting the value of "shopping local" when it comes to banking.
Will credit unions be open to this invitation? When I first started writing about credit unions more than 15 years ago, such an idea would immediately be considered blasphemy. And I don't doubt there will be many CU executives who will absolutely still see it that way.
But one of the things that has happened over the last 15 years is that we are seeing more CU executives who started their careers as bank executives. I recently sat down with one such CEO who noted that the common CU perception of "evil bankers" is somewhat outsized.
He noted that many banks do some of the same types of community activism and charitable work that credit unions do. While some might scoff and point out that banks only do that because they have to under the Community Reinvestment Act, the former bank executive said that it goes beyond the "good works" that look good: turns out some banks care about their customers, too.
"When I was at a bank, we weren't putting together products and services to fleece our customers — we were looking for ways to serve our customers," he said. "I believe in the credit union difference, I do, but I don't believe that banks are evil. But I've also learned that to say such things out loud is tantamount to blasphemy."
So, should credit unions "sleep with the enemy" and accept Tynan's invitation to work with community bankers, or is it called "blasphemy" for a reason?
Editor in Chief Lisa Freeman can be reached at email@example.com.