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‘Powerful Cause, Positive Effect’

This year’s GAC theme and logo are especially relevant.

March 18, 2012
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CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) takes place this week, culminating a planning process that began about six months ago. One of the first things we do is develop a theme and logo for the conference. It’s more challenging than you might think.

The GAC, after all, isn’t a conference that travels from city to city and takes a theme from its location (“Big Issues in the Big Easy!”). Admittedly, some are stronger than others. One of my personal favorites was 2005’s “The Main Event,” which featured a boxing theme because battling bankers was our main issue.

This year’s theme, illustrated with Newton’s Cradle, is one of the best: “Powerful Cause. Positive Effect.” It ties directly into our times.

Those who elect our legislators have had it with Wall Street. They’re particularly receptive to an institution with a business model emphasizing local ownership, personal service, and concern for community—a powerful cause.

Consider:

  • The contrast with big banks is what gave rise to the Bank Transfer Day phenomenon last fall. Even before Bank of America (BofA) drew so much attention with its $5 monthly debit card fee, we saw an upward trend in people joining credit unions—probably due to other big banks raising fees before BofA.

At this writing, NCUA hadn’t released its fourth-quarter data, but the strong new-member growth in CUNA’s survey (200,000 in October, 500,000 in November, and 300,000 in December) suggests NCUA’s numbers also will be up.

  • Consumer satisfaction with credit unions is as high as ever. The American Consumer Satisfaction Index in Ann Arbor, Mich., reveals that credit unions shattered all previous records. Credit unions had a satisfaction score of 87% on a 0 to 100 scale—the highest score ever reached by any of the 47 industries on the index.
  • Small businesses—so instrumental in job growth—are still having trouble obtaining credit at banks, and more are discovering credit unions. Banks might claim otherwise, but they’re contradicted by new survey data. A survey of small-business owners conducted by the Small Business Majority, Main Street Alliance, and the American Sustainable Business Council found that 60% of small-business owners say it’s more difficult to get a loan. And more than 90% favored giving credit unions and community banks greater ability to make small-business loans.
2012 GAC 2012 GAC 2012 GAC

Small-business representatives flew to Washington last month in a special, CUNA-coordinated Hike the Hill event to argue for raising the credit union member business lending cap. They put a human face on the survey numbers, and explained how credit unions helped them, often when banks had no such inclination.

Credit unions are the smarter choice for consumers and small-business owners. Ours is a worthy and powerful cause. The “positive effect” will be evident when more than 4,000 credit union representatives band together in Washington and fan out over Capitol Hill during the GAC.

A united message from a movement representing 94 million Americans—and growing—will resound with members of Congress who are especially attuned to constituent concerns in this election year. We’ll also seek to thoroughly drown out the bankers, who will have 1,000 of their own in Washington during the same dates as the GAC.

Another topic you’ll likely hear about at the GAC—the Plan to Win—is the centerpiece of a CUNA/league strategy to gain “yes” votes on our issues from all 435 U.S. House members and 100 senators. This 535-seat advocacy strategy emphasizes closer coordination, numerical targets, and accountability.

The Plan to Win will be instrumental in creating positive effects beyond the GAC so the “Newton’s Cradle” of credit union political activism stays in constant motion.

MARK WOLFF is CUNA’s senior vice president of communications. Contact him at 202-508-6764.

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