Five Questions with Dan Berger, president and CEO, National Association of Federal Credit Unions

For more than a decade, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU) has been under the stewardship of Fred Becker, who helped NAFCU members navigate through an enormously volatile time period. With Becker’s retirement effective this month, Dan Berger takes the helm. Berger previously served as NAFCU’s senior vice president of government affairs. Fresh off the NAFCU Annual Conference in Boston, and in his first month as president and CEO of NAFCU, The Score caught up with Dan to ask him about his thoughts on the future.

1. What are your three most important agenda items in the short term for NAFCU? 

I plan to keep the needs of our members at the forefront at all times. They are job one. After that, my top priorities as president are: managing NAFCU in a cost-effective manner, keeping up our award-winning advocacy with regulators and legislators, and taking NAFCU to the next level when it comes to education and training.

In terms of our finances, we know the best credit unions are frugal, and at NAFCU we will be equally prudent and prioritize based on our members’ needs. In terms of advocacy, we’re known in Washington as leaders in promoting credit union interests at every level of government. I will still be our chief advocate—making sure that NCUA [National Credit Union Administration], CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau], the White House and Congress know what’s important to the credit union community. And for education: everyone knows we’ve got the best compliance training at NAFCU. We want to up our game when it comes to training in other areas—finance, marketing, technology, as well as management and leadership development. And we are investing in a state-of-the-art learning management system that will help us to get there.

2. What are the greatest opportunities for credit unions today?

The financial crisis caused a lot of consumers to re-evaluate their options. Consumers lost faith and trust in the traditional banking system, but not with credit unions. In fact, the crisis made a lot of consumers realize that credit unions are a better deal. Credit union membership grew as people’s trust in banks went down. The crisis may be fading into the past, but credit unions can continue to capitalize on what people have been noticing about us: better rates, more personal service and more flexible loans. Today’s opportunity is a mandate: to not let people forget the difference between the “too big to fail, bailed-out” banks and what we offer our member-owners.

3. NAFCU has a very successful track record when it comes to dealing with Congress. What are NAFCU’s three highest legislative priorities?

Our top three legislative priorities are fighting overregulation, preserving the credit union tax exemption and maintaining credit unions’ access to a secondary mortgage market. We’re advancing these priorities all the time, day in and day out, but we’re shifting into high gear to really get lawmakers’ attention during our Congressional Caucus in September. It’s a great time for credit unions to come personally make their case to their representatives about the most pressing issues facing credit unions today.

NAFCU’s five-point plan for regulatory relief, which we announced in February, has been getting some traction on the Hill, and a number of legislative measures have been introduced, including Rep. Gary Miller’s credit union regulatory relief bill.

Tax reform talks have been in the spotlight all summer with the road trip by Senate Banking Chairman Max Baucus and House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp. We expect that debate to reach a head this fall. Housing finance reform efforts are also heating up on the Hill, with different proposals being offered by congressional leaders and the administration. So it is a critical and busy time in Washington.

4. Could you describe the relationship with NCUA and how it is different than other trade organization-regulator relationships?

We have a great relationship with NCUA, and it’s something that both sides work to keep productive and proactive. We have an ongoing dialogue with them about issues that concern our members, what we’d like them to focus on and vice versa. We both have a job to do, and I think both sides find it easiest when we both are professional and helpful, and when communication remains open at all times.

5. NAFCU’s “Preferred Provider” program offers credit unions a rich collection of resources for managing operations and growing membership. What characteristics does NAFCU look for when choosing which companies can carry the distinction of being a “Preferred Provider”?

Before earning the Preferred Partner designation, companies must pass the scrutiny of one committee and two boards, each comprising credit union CEOs and senior executives. They consider factors such as: Does the company add value to credit unions? Do they understand the credit union mission? Can they accelerate credit union growth and productivity? It’s this type of rigorous and ongoing evaluation that ensures only top-quality market leaders are presented to the credit community with the NAFCU Services seal of approval. Our partners represent more than 50 solutions, each with the specific goal of helping credit unions improve their bottom lines. That’s the high level of performance and commitment that I insist upon.

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