CUNA Taps New CEO After Turbulent 2009

Posted May 7, 2010 at 4:13pm

After a nine-month search, the Credit Union National Association has named Bill Cheney as its new CEO and president.

The change comes as credit unions face a potential onslaught of new regulation with the financial services overhaul in Congress continuing to move forward.

“It’s critically important we don’t miss a beat in Washington,” Cheney said last week. “Certainly, this is a challenging time with financial regulatory reform to member business lending to interchange to you name it.”

Cheney, 49, is currently president and CEO of the California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues and will be based in CUNA’s Washington, D.C., offices. He officially starts July 5.

The pick was an unusual one from an inside-the-Beltway perspective.

While Cheney is steeped in the credit union world, he is not a creature of Washington like his predecessor, former Rep. Dan Mica (D-Fla.). Cheney has never been a registered lobbyist or worked in the nation’s capital.

Mica, who has led the group since 1996, has brought CUNA a level of stature in Washington that credit unions hadn’t had before. The former Member used his connections on Capitol Hill and implemented a strong grass-roots approach to help credit unions’ causes.

Mica will continue to run CUNA until Cheney’s start date and will remain available to counsel Cheney for the rest of the year.

Cheney may be a departure from Mica’s model, but CUNA is standing by its decision.

“After an exhaustive search, in which nearly 100 highly qualified candidates were considered, the CUNA Board has accepted and certified the executive search committee’s recommendation of Bill as the next chief executive of our association,” CUNA Board Chairman Kris Mecham said in a statement. “Bill’s long service to credit unions, as both a financial institution executive and association leader, ensure our association will not miss a beat in advocating for credit unions.”

Cheney said that even though he hasn’t “been a Member of Congress and never will be, I think I bring the right political resources to bear,” noting his relationships with the California and Nevada delegations, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Fiscal Woes

Cheney won’t be facing only a political learning curve. He comes on board following a rocky financial period at CUNA.

Last year, CUNA eliminated 26 staff positions and reduced 18 others to part time, eliminated senior management merit pay increases and a management bonus pool, implemented a mandatory one-week furlough and suspended its 401(k) employer match program from July to December.

This year, the association is on better financial footing, according to CUNA spokesman Pat Keefe. Merit increases for all staff and the bonus pool are back in place, and the 401(k) match program was reinstated, he said. However, the group’s defined-benefit plan remains frozen.

The $51-million-a-year trade association has 8,000 credit union members. It also has an outpost in Madison, Wis.

Cheney said he doesn’t envision major changes to the group’s structure. CUNA spent $3.6 million last year on lobbying, according to disclosure reports filed with Congress. The group reported spending $673,000 during the first quarter of this year. In addition to 15 in-house lobbyists, CUNA also has Downey McGrath Group and Trammell and Co. on retainer.

Too Many Voices?

Despite saying he doesn’t expect major changes, Cheney is already making noise in his industry by saying that he envisions one voice for credit unions on Capitol Hill.

Currently, there are two national trade associations for credit unions, CUNA and the National Association of Federal Credit Unions. CUNA and NAFCU often stake out different positions in legislative battles.

“It would make sense to move to one national credit union association,” Cheney said. “That’s something the credit unions have to decide, not something a trade association can decide.”

NAFCU’s Fred Becker said his outfit is not interested in merging.

“I think we’ve proven the value of having two trade associations and the value they can bring on various legislative issues,” Becker said. “I look forward to working with him in equal partnership.”