Veteran lobbyist takes the reins for credit unions

ADVERTISEMENT
Though Congress takes a break during August, Berger said his organization plans to be hard at work.

“August is a slow time?” he asked. “For who?”

Over the last several months, Berger has been involved with planning and strategy meetings to prepare for his transition. On his first official day as NAFCU’s chief, he said there will be an all-staff meeting to “allow everybody the opportunity to reset.” He’ll outline priorities and expectations for the group, he said.

Looming regulations from various agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and National Credit Union Administration are keeping staffers at the group busy.

NAFCU is also in the middle of planning its annual “fly-in,” where the group’s members descend on Washington to discuss issues facing their institutions and hear from federal policymakers. Held at the beginning of September, this year’s event will be Berger’s formal debut as the leader of the organization.

The group represents 68 percent of all federal credit union assets, boasting 800 members. There are more than 6,800 federally insured credit unions nationwide, according to the organization.

Berger said he remains committed to maintaining the NAFCU’s focus on member engagement. He travels around the country several times each month and makes sure he and his staff are always available for credit union chief executives.

“We have such a close relationship with our member CEOs, they pick up the phone and they call. ‘Heads up, this has been going on in South Dakota,’ or, ‘This is what happened in Chicago.’ We hear that almost on a daily basis,” he said.

“I can see there being a bubble in Washington, but we're pretty well grounded here, we know what's going on out across the country.”

Berger is a familiar face on Capitol Hill.

In the NAFCU’s magazine, The Federal Credit Union, House Financial Services Committee member Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.) called Berger a “valued asset for credit union advocacy” and said he would be “exceptional” as the group’s CEO.

Though Berger said he would still be involved in advocacy, he’ll be delegating a number of his contacts on the Hill and inside the administration to his colleagues to make way for his new responsibilities.

He'll now be in charge of the entirety of NAFCU’s operations — consisting of more than eight different departments, including marketing, legislative affairs, regulatory affairs, its political action committee and grassroots advocacy campaigning.

Part of the challenge for the credit unions is keeping up with the enormous changes wrought by the Dodd-Frank reform law.

“[Credit unions are] not a big bank or a Wall Street institution, where you may have dozens or hundreds of compliance analysts,” Berger said. “You may have one compliance officer, dealing with the [all the] same regulations. But the effect is devastating on small financial institutions.”

In the advocacy world, banks and credit unions are “aligned with 99 percent of everything,” he said. “It's that last 1 percent that's 100 percent of the problem,” he said, referencing the battle over credit unions’ tax-exempt status.

Berger said his group is working to ensure that the exemption for credit unions isn’t tossed aside in tax reform legislation.

“As we reach out daily to the members of Congress who are writing the tax bill and working on the issue, we feel pretty good where we are at this point,” he said, “but we remain vigilant.”

More in Cybersecurity

Credit unions want congressional data breach working group

Read more »