Have you ever been listening to the radio, just going about your business, and suddenly been startled by an alert from the Emergency Alert System? It’s loud and annoying, but it does the job: to get you to stop what you’re doing and pay attention.
As a credit union marketer, I’ve experienced something like this in recent months. For the first time since the battle over credit union fields of membership in 1998, legislation specific to credit unions has made it to the Senate calendar and could come up for a vote at any time. The Credit Union Small Business Jobs Bill, S. 2231, would raise the credit union member business lending (MBL) cap to 27.5% of assets.
That’s interesting and exciting, especially if your credit union’s business lending has been hindered by the current cap of 12.25%. But that’s not what blasted me awake like an Emergency Alert tone. What woke me up was the ferocity of the attacks on the bill by the banking lobbyists – attacks that were both loud and annoying.
I’ve never been a “political” person. As a credit union executive, I’ve spent the last decade simply going about my business – serving our members. Frankly, when I hear the term “legislative affairs,” I’m stifling back a yawn. This issue, however, got my attention for two reasons:
- According to CUNA, this provision could make up to $13 billion in capital available to small businesses in the first year alone. CUNA also estimates that the change could help create over 140,000 new jobs (at no cost to taxpayers).
- As a credit union that’s been up against the cap for 10 years, a lift of the cap would mean we could finance some great small business loans we’d been turning away – loans for dump trucks, small warehouses, locally owned restaurants, and more.
To me, the legislation seems fair to the marketplace, but according to some talking points from the American Bankers Association, “it would starve community banks.” CUNA states that banks control 95% of the market and that even if credit unions did twice as much business lending, they still only have 10% market share.
Like many in the credit union movement, I tend to root for the underdog. As both CUNA and the Virginia Credit Union League began to pelt me with email alerts about the battle that was heating up, I began to pay attention.
When an Emergency Alert tone goes off and it’s a real emergency, you don’t just sit there - you do something. We got involved by engaging our lawmakers. Last fall, CEOs and executives from our local credit unions visited our Congressman, who didn’t seem at all interested in the CU point of view. The resulting article in Credit Union Times expressed lessons learned and urged other credit unions to pay attention as well. After the Congressman read the article, he wanted to discuss the MBL legislation again. In that meeting, we learned that what gets his attention as a lawmaker is when he hears from his constituents – our credit union members.
At the urging of John Beiler, our CEO, we hit the road with a video camera and interviewed a dozen of our small business borrowers about lifting the lending cap. All of them would like to borrow from us to expand their businesses and employ more people, but can’t do so since we’ve reached the 12.25% cap.
The short video, posted on our website and Facebook page, asks viewers to contact their Senator and ask them to support S. 2231. By the way – the video is generic and you’re free to post it on your credit union site.
For a bit more polished video featuring credit union business borrowers, check out this one from Listerhill Credit Union in Alabama. It's part of their iheartmycreditunion.org initiative.
It’s working. As members see these videos and the many other tools credit unions are using to ask for help, thousands of grassroots credit union advocates are contacting their lawmakers. We’ve heard that our Congressman seems to be warming up to the idea of lifting the MBL cap. All of us – credit union champions like you as well as the members you serve – can get involved and do something to influence in this process.
Our part is to let our members know what’s happening – to sound the alert that says “pay attention!” In our national membership, we have millions of potential lobbyists. If we’re making a difference in the lives of our members, I believe they’ll be willing to promote their credit union’s causes.
How can you reach members? My suggestion is to enlist those whose specialty is communicating with members – your marketing department. I’m a marketer. If you can get people like me fired up about advocacy, they’ll use all the tools of their trade to reach members and call them to action. Marketers know how to do mailings and email campaigns, write articles and produce videos, and spread the word on social media. If it will help our credit unions thrive, we are glad to do it. It’s our job.
During the video interviews, our members consistently expressed “love” for their credit union. They wanted to help and kept asking what they could do. Can you imagine what would happen if millions of credit union members heard the alert and began writing, calling, emailing and visiting their representatives about credit union issues? I think it might hit our lawmakers like that Emergency Alert tone. I believe they’d begin to pay attention and do something for America’s credit unions.
Ken Gonyer is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications with Park View Federal Credit Union. Ken has been part of the Credit Union movement since beginning work at Park View Federal Credit Union in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 2001. He’s served in multiple roles including marketing, compliance, operations, training and member service. Currently he is a branch manager and serves on the PVFCU executive team overseeing marketing and electronic services delivery. Ken is a contributing writer for Credit Union Business Magazine, a frequent presenter for the Virginia Credit Union League, and chairman of the Credit Union Marketing and Business Development Council of Virginia. He recently received VACUL’s 2012 Political Action Advocate of the Year award.