As Prepared for Delivery on September 12, 2023
Thank you very much. It’s my pleasure to join you today. I can’t believe it’s already been a year since the last Congressional Caucus. It seems like we were just here. But regardless, this has always been one of my favorite events of the year, so I’m happy to welcome everyone back to Washington.
I lose count of how many times I’ve spoken to the Congressional Caucus in my two terms on the NCUA Board, but if my calculations are correct, this would have to be my ninth or tenth appearance here. And my service on the Board — as Vice Chairman from 2005-2009; Chairman from 2019-2021; and now as a Board member — has given me an unusually broad perspective on the state of the industry during some immensely challenging times.
For example, I was thinking back to 2008, when I was serving as Vice Chairman, and we were facing an almost unprecedented global financial and economic crisis. In fact, it was right around this time in September 2008, 15 years ago, that the crisis really started to boil over. In the first week of September, the federal government took control of the government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy on September 15. That was certainly one of the most challenging times I’ve experienced in my career in financial services and as a regulator.
I first touch on that history to remind myself that while we’re facing some challenges today, there’s nothing to compare with what we went through 15 years ago. In my travels around the country, visiting with credit union leaders and members, I hear from a lot of people about their concern and uncertainty about the economic outlook. I share their concern. But the good news is that while we may see some turbulence, we’re on much steadier ground today.
Moreover, that previous experience on the Board showed me how remarkably resilient our credit union system can be when faced with a historic challenge. That’s a fact I’ve seen illustrated repeatedly – especially in the 2008 crisis and again during the 2020 pandemic emergency – when credit unions have stood up to a challenge and emerged standing strong, with the safety and soundness of the system intact. So, I have a great deal of confidence in the credit union system’s ability to endure any stresses that come your way.
But that doesn’t mean those challenges and stresses are any less real. My goal as a regulator is to do everything I can to ensure that credit unions are able to prosper and thrive for the long term and ensure that your institutions are properly fortified for the long term.
I’m extraordinarily optimistic about the future outlook for credit unions and the cooperative finance movement as a whole. We know the nation’s system of federally insured credit unions, as a whole, is safe and sound based on all the available data we track. And I have every reason to believe the credit union industry is well poised to continue that record of success.
However, I do believe that the industry’s future resilience is dependent on showing prudence and foresight in the decisions we make today. The question is, how do we ensure that credit unions can continue to prosper and thrive for years to come?
One thing that everyone in this room can do, right now, is to make the most of these next few days in Washington. I always say that there’s no better advocate for the credit union industry than the people who make up that industry. So, take this opportunity to develop and nurture relationships with your members of Congress and their staff members – especially their staff members, because they can be a tremendous resource for you. And help them to better understand what it is that your institutions are doing in your states and communities and to help them understand the challenges you and your members are facing.
As part of that advocacy effort, share your stories. You all have so many stories about member service; about support for entrepreneurs and small business, and about financial inclusion for marginalized and underserved communities, all of which go a long way toward making the case for why credit unions matter so much.
From my own perspective, as a member of the NCUA Board, I spend virtually all my time focusing on industry issues: weighing potential regulatory actions, studying economic data, examining trends in financial services, and so forth. And yet some of the most compelling data I receive are the stories I hear from the people working out in the field — people just like you — when I travel around the country to meet with credit union leaders or attend an industry association conference or talk to credit union members about the difference your institutions have made in their lives.
So, for instance, just last week, I heard about the story of a couple of young African American entrepreneurs in Louisiana who started a private security company. They were struggling until they got their first big break: a contract to provide security at the Super Bowl. They belonged to a postal credit union, where they got the $100,000 loan they needed to hire and train personnel for the job, and that set them on the glide path to becoming a company with operations in four states and almost 200 employees.
Or the story of the barber in North Little Rock, Arkansas, who started a loan fund to help students at the barber college, which ultimately evolved into a new credit union where they’re now providing a range of financial services to the local community.
There are so many stories like these, and, in many ways, they illustrate more about the credit union mission than statistics and data ever could. The writer Flannery O’Connor once wrote that “A story is a way to say something that can’t be said in any other way.” I believe that’s true, and it goes a long way toward explaining why the stories we tell have such power. And the stories you tell about the work your credit unions are doing around the nation have the added advantage of being true, making them that much more compelling.
Moreover, I encourage you to communicate with one another, which is a great thing about events like this because it provides a forum where we can share ideas. And before you know it, the ideas are spreading, and we’re seeing a real difference in even more communities. Again, that would be in the best spirit of the credit union mission of cooperation and “people helping people.”
I promised myself I wouldn’t speak too long so that we’d have time for some discussion of the issues that are at the top of your minds. Once again, thank you very much for having me today.