(July 25, 2007 - Honolulu Airport, HI) Greetings from the land of Aloha! Beautiful beaches, sunny day after sunny day, delightful evening breezes, breathtaking views, gracious people – if it’s not paradise, Hawaii is at least a good working model.
Of course, that’s not what brought me here. The Federation came to Hawaii to conduct a day-long, intensive workshop, graciously hosted by the Hawaii Credit Union League. We presented educational sessions at NAFCU’s hugely attended conference (including one, shockingly, at 7:30 on a Saturday morning). We visited low-income credit unions. We worked hard (most of the time).
No, it’s not Hawaii’s obvious enchantments that mellowed me. What has most captured my imagination is the regulatory environment for credit unions. As a long-time advocate for low-income and small credit unions, I routinely hear a litany of complaints about examiners who bully managers and boards, who don’t make allowances for local conditions or unique markets, who spring surprises, who seem to delight in finding fault – “Gotcha (again)!” – who, in short, create and foster an adversarial relationship (perhaps a little like Jurassic Park, filmed partly on Oahu).
In Hawaii, time and again, I heard from credit unions and examiners, “We do things a little differently here.”
Supervisory Examiner Leslie A. Thomson, along with examiners Jim Jones and Kim Riingen attended and contributed significantly to the Federation’s seminar at the Hawaii CU League.
Thomson outlined some of her team’s practices:
- Consult with credit unions a week or so before coming in for an examination
- Identify problems and suggest solutions before the exam begins
- Provide the Document of Resolution to the board a week before meeting with them, in order to give them time to digest the findings
- Work with credit unions whenever there is a new regulation, so that they don’t perceive the new demands as an arbitrary regulatory fad
Simple things, really. Common sense and common courtesy. The way things used to be, according to some credit union managers who have been in the business longer than my own 27 years. “Examiners used to be there to help,” says Joy Cousminer, CEO of Bethex FCU in New York City. According to many of the credit unions I spoke with, in Hawaii, examiners still are.
I talked with NCUA officials who offered that Hawaii is not unique, that there are other areas of the country where similar dynamics prevail. Perhaps so. But if there’s one challenge that the NCUA Board should undertake without concern for the bankers or Congress, it’s this: make Hawaii-style relationships the norm, rather than the exception. Strive relentlessly for consistency across the examination force. Change the NCUA culture!
Perhaps it’s the island nature of Hawaii that has helped shape this environment. It is, after all, a small world. But the credit union world is small, too -- and getting smaller, as hundreds of institutions disappear each year. The survival of the movement is best ensured if we find a way to get along.
I’m about to board a plane for a sixteen-hour trip back home. As a long-time New Yorker, I’m supposed to be cynical, skeptical, hard-bitten. By the time I reach home, I probably will be, once again. But in the meanwhile, I can’t help thinking that a little Aloha spirit in the credit union movement could go a long way.
Mahalo, Hawaii! Many thanks!
Clifford N. Rosenthal
National Federation of
Community Development Credit Unions
This letter also appears in the Aug. 15, 2007 Credit Union Times.