Expanding his ability to serve veterans

Anthony Hernandez held multiple finance-related positions during his time in the Air Force, eventually becoming known as “Money Hernandez.”

Now, he leads a trade association that represents credit unions serving military members and their families.

Hernandez, 50, joined the Defense Credit Union Council (DCUC) as its chief operating officer in 2016, just days after relinquishing his military command, retiring as a colonel, and became the group’s president and chief executive officer in August of last year.

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“We’ve made a lot of changes in my short time here,” Hernandez said in an interview at DCUC’s office in downtown Washington. “Changed our logo, changed our website, moved to this new facility, started streamlining a lot of the things that we’re doing now, and working on a bunch of different things we haven’t really done in the past before.”

Hernandez had a 25-year career in the Air Force after graduating from New Mexico State University with a degree in business administration. While in the Air Force, he earned master’s degrees from the University of Phoenix, the Air Command and Staff College and the Air War College.

Hernandez had known about DCUC for years before starting work there, because his wife, Jennifer, worked for his predecessor at the group for 16 years. Hernandez would accompany her to conferences, where he would attend meetings and meet officials who worked at DCUC’s member organizations.

DCUC advocates on behalf of about 180 credit unions of various sizes that have locations on U.S. military installations. The group’s members include Navy Federal Credit Union and Pentagon Federal Credit Union, better known as PenFed.

Hernandez said that only 3 percent of all credit unions are defense credit unions, but that includes many of the larger ones.

“Military members tend to pick a financial institution and then stick with it through life,” he said. “And every couple of months, you have a new batch of recruits coming in that needs access to credit, needs a place to deposit their pay and a safe place to save for the future.”

“We cover the entire life cycle of the military member, all the way through when they transition out of the military and move onto retirement, and now their kids are coming in doing things for our country as well,” he added.

DCUC is the point-of-contact inside the Pentagon for its members.

One issue that the group is currently discussing with the Department of Defense (DOD) is educating troops about the military’s new blended retirement system. 

Under the legacy retirement system, service members don’t receive benefits unless they serve in the military for at least 20 years. Under blended retirement, pension payments will be smaller, but participants can make contributions that are matched by the government and will be able to take those retirement funds with them if they leave the military before serving the full two decades.

Only 16.5 percent of the 1.6 million service members eligible to opt into the new retirement system have chosen to do so as of the end of September, which Hernandez personally thinks is low. His group has been talking with DOD about educating service members more about the new system.

“We don’t advocate that they should go in or should stay in, but at least give them information to make a choice,” he said.

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DCUC also frequently discusses their members’ base access issues with the Pentagon, such as how credit unions on bases can go about upgrading their facilities, Hernandez said.

Banks and credit unions have long been fighting over credit unions’ tax exemption. Community banks have pushed for credit unions to lose the exemption, arguing that the two types of financial institutions provide the same services. Credit unions have defended the rules, saying they have restricted powers and limited fields of memberships.

Hernandez expressed concerns that defense credit unions would leave military bases if they lost their tax exemption.

“If you start to tax credit unions, they would become no better than banks. They’d start to have to make cost decisions because they wouldn’t have that benefit to stay on the base,” he said.

On the legislative front, DCUC is looking at legislation to exclude veteran business loans from the caps on lending that credit unions face. Legislation along these lines would help those transitioning out of the military start small businesses, Hernandez said.

For 2019, DCUC is setting up a military advisory committee so that it can receive more feedback on legislative priorities. Hernandez also wants to increase the group’s prominence.

“We’re very well-known in our small, tiny circle, but we’ve never really gone out beyond that,” he said. “I think I’d be better representing our members if we had a higher public profile.”

Dan Berger, president and CEO of the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions, said that he thinks Hernandez will achieve his goal of raising DCUC’s profile.

“He has a plan and a focus and a mission and he’s going to be successful in taking DCUC everywhere,” Berger said.

James Schenck, CEO of PenFed, also praised Hernandez, saying that “he’s very good at understanding the issues at the Department of Defense and Capitol Hill.” 

When not working, Hernandez likes spending time with his wife and two daughters, aged 24 and 17.

Hernandez moved around many times during his military career, and he’s looking forward to the long-term stability that his job at DCUC offers.

“My wife and I have finally bought a house that we’re trying to make our home, and … lay down some roots, make it permanent,” he said.