The ‘Why’ Behind Advocating at GAC: Three CEOs Sound Off

L-R: Jennifer Binkley, CEO of Altura CU; Carrie Birkhofer, CEO of Bay FCU; and Geri LaChance, CEO SESLOC FCU
L-R: Jennifer Binkley, CEO of Altura CU; Carrie Birkhofer, CEO of Bay FCU; and Geri LaChance, CEO SESLOC FCU

Traveling to Washington, D.C. for the 2019 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) is nearly an annual event for some credit union veterans. And still, other leaders are brand new to the industry’s largest advocacy gathering.

This year’s 280 attendees from California and Nevada represent a special group of individuals. They could’ve said “no” to the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ call-to-action to attend. Instead, they chose to make time to engage elected officials face to face on behalf of their members and communities.

Altura CU CEO Jennifer Binkley said her board of directors has long supported credit union advocacy for members, the community, and the cooperative’s charter. To provide necessary products and services, “we need to share our members’ stories with regulators and legislators—because many regulations that were intended to help consumers unfortunately have unintended consequences.”

She added that oftentimes credit unions are the only institutions willing to provide transaction accounts, “second chance” financing, education in financial management, or products that establish consumer credit, which is a unique role. “It is vital that we communicate our purpose to Congress,” Binkley said.

For other attendees, making the trek to GAC is about reinforcing “good governance.” Carrie Birkhofer, CEO of Bay FCU, said that “building political capital” with members of Congress is all about representing her members’ interests—those everyday individuals and families who are congressional constituents of the local community. They deserve the best advocacy efforts their credit union can put forth.

“We must always tell this story to our legislators and regulators so we continue to have their support,” Birkhofer said. “For me, that’s why it is important to build political capital and always advocate for our members and communities. Our members need good governance and regulations, with some support from necessary guardrails.”

Nonetheless, others who volunteer for the trip year after year have experienced the difference it makes over time.

Geri LaChance said she hopes that educating elected and appointed officials—and developing and maintaining long-term relationships with them in-district and in the nation’s capitol—will be strong enough this year to gain some industry relief from “over-compliance and burdening.” The CEO of SESLOC FCU pointed to her members as the first priority of why the credit union exists, and the importance of reiterating this message with officials.

“Building political capital, done right, is a valuable long-term investment where education and conversations on key credit union issues are discussed regularly with our elected—and regulators too,” LaChance said. “It raises credibility when we do need help on legislation or regulations, because our position on matters is provided within context rather than as an emergency coming from left field.”

Leaders at the Leagues realize it takes more than just GAC attendees to advocate for credit unions—it takes an army of volunteers and credit union staff “at home” too! The Leagues recognize the hard work and effort of these individuals on behalf of the entire movement.

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