Financial sector's work on SAFE Banking Act shows together, everyone achieves more
© Greg Nash

The U.S. House of Representatives took an historic vote on legislation to make it easier and safer for cannabis businesses – and the businesses that serve them – to engage in the mainstream financial services sector.

Just a few years ago, if someone said this legislation would get a hearing in Congress much less a vote in the House of Representatives, I might have given you a funny look.  But the story of how this bill advanced through the House represents some of the best practices of financial services lawmaking.

Reps. Ed PerlmutterEdwin (Ed) George PerlmutterFor safety and economic recovery, Congress must prioritize cannabis banking Eight surprises in House Democrats' T coronavirus relief bill Democrats introduce bill to include cannabis businesses in coronavirus relief MORE (D-Colo.), Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.), Steve StiversSteven (Steve) Ernst StiversNational Retail Federation hosts virtual 'store tours' for lawmakers amid coronavirus Stronger patent rights would help promote US technological leadership Republicans to introduce House version of Scott police reform bill MORE (R-Ohio) and Warren DavidsonWarren Earl DavidsonGOP-Trump fractures on masks open up House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA MORE (R-Ohio) proved to be tenacious sponsors who were open to making the changes necessary to drive a large, bipartisan vote. Their efforts were supported by a unified financial services sectors led by credit unions, banks and their associations working together to help Congress and their industries understand that the cannabis banking legislation wasn’t about making cannabis legal, but rather about making sure that legal cannabis business can bank safely.


Credit unions and banks working together on Capitol Hill might sound novel, and it certainly makes lawmakers take notice, but it’s not new.  We’ve worked together to enact regulatory relief legislation; we stood side by side at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; we’ve even been on the same side of data breach litigation. And when we’ve worked together, we’ve almost always achieved a positive outcome for the institutions we represent and the consumers and small businesses they serve.

When people ask me about credit union versus bank battles in advocacy, I am always quick to share with them that we agree on about 90 percent of the issues. It’s the 10 percent that seem to get all the attention and none of the progress. These are the issues that are quixotic at best, but often feel like we fight the fight because we’ve always fought the fight.

The success we achieved on the SAFE Banking Act reminds us what is possible when credit unions and banks work together. We’ve proven our ability to bring together diametrically opposed lawmakers to achieve the seemingly impossible, so perhaps we can tackle something equally insurmountable and not just the “run of the mill” trade issues.

Neither banks nor credit unions are strangers to the reputational and financial costs associated hacked accounts and identity fraud. Can our combined efforts pave the way for a long-past-due national data security and privacy package?

Whatever we do next, let’s keep this going. They say that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Well this collaboration has been a tremendous step, and I can’t wait to see what kind of journey credit unions and banks can take when we work in accord.

Ryan Donovan is Credit Union National Association (CUNA) chief advocacy officer.