I first found out about credit unions in 1986. My mother taught high school and she had joined the Lake County Educational Federal Credit Union. The credit union tried to involve young people in learning about money and it was the first financial institution to give me a credit card.
I used the credit union to get car loans and various other types of loans throughout law school and college. Around 1993, I became more interested in how credit unions work internally and I ran for the Board of Directors in 1994. I was elected and served for 4 ½ years, ultimately becoming Board President. When I joined WWR, I had to leave my position, as it would have been a conflict of interest to continue.
When I first joined the Board, I felt that I quickly grasped governance aspects of what we were doing. The financials, however, eluded me. I am far from being a math genius and I had not really read balance sheets before. However, our Treasurer spent a lot of time with me explaining what everything meant and I read a great deal on my own to get to the point where I could read and understand the reports. This hurdle, I believe, is common among directors. It may not always be financial reports. Everyone on a board of a credit union brings his or her own knowledge to the table. However, no one knows everything. There are bound to be gaps.
This is why it is important for a credit union director to realize this as soon as possible and then work to understand whatever it is that is a mystery. If there’s something that a director does not understand, he or she should take the time to learn. To do otherwise presents problems. If a director does not understand a fundamental part of the job, relying on others to cover for him or her, then he or she is doing a disservice to the credit union. Moreover, he or she is doing a disservice to himself or herself and perhaps unwittingly opening up potential personal liability. CUNA’s Volunteer Achievement Program goes a long way to help with this, but a director should also take advantage of seminars in areas where they need help. There are many programs available out there from excellent providers such as leagues, CUNA, CUES and NAFCU to name a few.