When I shared with friends of mine at credit unions that I'd soon be joining CUNA as the new president and CEO, they told me I'd be diving into a financial services pool that is swirling with both opportunity and challenge. Boy, were they on target!

Since I came on board at CUNA Sept. 22, here are just two challenges that arose:

  • New information about the Home Depot, Jimmy John's and other data breaches highlighted even more the need for changes to public policy that will hold merchants to the same or comparable data security standards as those for financial institutions;
  • Walmart announced a new partnership with an online financial institution to offer checking and other services in their stores to almost anyone over 18 who passes an ID check — new rivalry for credit unions in reaching out to younger people.

There were also certainly opportunities:

  • CUNA highlighted the milestone of 100 million memberships reached at credit unions by sponsoring a "Credit Union Day" at a major-league baseball game in Washington between the playoff-bound Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins. With a huge attendance (more than 34,000) made up of baseball fans who are also lawmakers, policymakers and influencers, it was an ideal opportunity to drive home the growth and strength of today's credit union movement.
  • A story published in the Sept. 25 issue of the Wall Street Journal (in which CUNA played a hand) reported on the growth of mortgage lending at credit unions — particularly smaller ones and emphasizing lower costs for borrowers — reinforces the value to consumers of doing their financial business credit unions of all sizes.

I'm excited about taking on the challenges, and making the most of the opportunities.
I'm also enthusiastic about working with credit unions, full-speed ahead, to address their priorities, including: protecting the credit union tax exemption, ensuring regulatory relief, and achieving the shared strategic vision that more Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner.

As the nation continues to recover from the financial crisis inflicted on it by the big-banks, credit unions have done an outstanding job serving members' needs, by keeping credit available to enable members to own homes, buy cars, open businesses and create jobs. That leadership and careful stewardship of their members' financial health helped credit unions maintain and ultimately strengthen a high level of confidence and trust among their members.

The scope and reach of our movement — and the sheer size of 100 million memberships — is an incredibly powerful tool and one many other groups want but will never attain. Credit unions reach into all corners of our country. Red and blue states; urban, suburban, and rural communities; and the rich diversity of our consumer members makes the credit union movement a formidable political and business force.

We're going to make more use of this tool — and others, such as the trustworthiness credit unions have earned from consumers — in helping to achieve our goals.

In early meetings with the CUNA board and staff I've emphasized my management philosophy: Listen, learn, help — and lead. It's an approach to management that has served me well in my career.

I'll take same the approach in learning more about credit unions and as we work together to leverage the unity, strength of CUNA and the larger credit union movement. Thank you for the opportunity to serve in this great movement with you — and I look forward to taking on the challenges with you.

Jim Nussle is CEO of CUNA.