Protect your capital at the Capitol
Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Posted by: Jeff Rendel, Rising Above Enterprises
With all of the laws, regulations, new agencies, and checks on your credit union coming from legislative and regulatory bodies around the country, what does an executive do? Hang on for the unavoidable and fiddle with a business model as a result? No. The leading executive advances and defends his credit union by developing and upholding political influence in capitals around the land.
What does it take to build genuine, long-lasting influence with elected officials? Influence. Local credit union executives have much influence with Congress or any Legislature for that matter; and, for each issue, a legislator has a handful of people he consults with initially. These people have the most amount of influence with the legislator. Are you on that list?
Influence is much more than writing a timely letter, inundating a lawmaker’s phone system with calls, or joining a lawmaker’s society of ambassadors, champions, and friends. It’s a fine place to start, but – for all intents and purposes – it results in franking privilege letters and the annual Capitol Christmas Calendar.
Straight from the source (Members of Congress shared this with me during my days as a lobbyist to Congress), here’s what it takes for an executive leader to secure influence and protect his credit union’s capital at the Capitol.
1. Make governmental affairs business-as-usual, not just-in-time or as-needed. The most influential organizations and corporations are the most consistent with time, effort, and resources. They include governmental relations in their strategic plans and annual budget. They require that a senior-level executive, as an official part of the job, represent the credit union before government leaders. Ultimately, they recognize that influence rests in the hands of only some, and they build systems to be a part of that set.
2. Clarify, with solid information, the effect that laws and regulations have on your credit union. The best lobbyist is the local business owner or manager. After all, he understands the real world on the corner of Fifth & Main. Communicating how your credit union is affected adds authenticity to your position. Be conscious that your competitors may be selling a different story. Are their statements accurate? Do you have a detailed reply? Do you have a solution? Provide this type of information as you build trust in this relationship.
3. Be valued as the trusted resource on credit union matters. Trust takes time, commitment, and reliability. For this reason, regular face time is indispensable. Since legislators serve numerous constituents and assess thousands of legislative bills, you may spend plenty of time with their key staff members. That’s OK; In fact, it’s valuable since key staff members are the minds behind your issues and the eyes and ears of the legislators. Building trust with staff builds trust with the legislator. In due course, your relationship with both grows to be a productive partnership.
4. Invest in the careers of those who invest in your issues. Money – you knew the subject was imminent. In politics, two rules apply: 1) Get elected; and, 2) Get reelected. Both take time and money. You’ll recollect from Point #1 above that “influence rests in the hands of only some.” These “some” supply money and time. Personal contributions matter most. You can’t deduct, for income tax purposes, political contributions. These monies come from the cash flow you produce and make use of through life. Legislators appreciate the sacrifice. Coordinated and PAC contributions show unity. Perhaps the legislator championing your industry lives on the other side of your state. Clearly, your interests aren’t his constituents, but his backing of your cause affects your members. This is a friend you want to keep in office, even if they serve another neck-of-the-wood. Campaign volunteer contributions show commitment. Conceivably more important than campaign money is the time required to administer a political campaign. Your leg work in helping a legislator win office pays dividends for a very long time.
5. Take a public stand on your issues and candidates’ stances. Use your internal communications and the local media to discuss business issues. State your case in your newsletter and social media. Write an Op-Ed in your local newspaper. Let your members know how laws and regulations affect their credit union, as well as the products, services, and prices that your members enjoy. If you’re willing, communicate with your members politically, i.e., “Vote for Bob” or “Don’t vote for Bob.” Express endorsement is a competitive advantage and allows lawmakers to recognize that you have influence and the ability to speak politically to your owners. Credit unions hold a tremendous advantage with express endorsement. Both credit unions and banks can communicate politically to their owners. The biggest difference is your credit union is comprised of thousands of local owners. Banks? Maybe hundreds.
Executives—and the credit unions they lead—that adhere to these steps to lasting political influence will prevail. In spite of everything—and for as long as we can see in our mind's eye—legislators and regulators will endeavor to pass and implement laws and regulations that help or hinder your credit union. The strategic executive understands that he needs a leading voice in this course of action. He needs to always protect his credit union’s capital at the Capitol.
© 2014 by Jeff Rendel. All rights reserved.
Jeff Rendel, Certified Speaking Professional, and President of Rising Above Enterprises works with credit unions that want elite results in leadership, sales, and strategy. Each year, he addresses and facilitates for more than 100 credit unions and their business partners.