At the Governmental Affairs Conference each year, credit union leaders across the nation converge on Washington, D.C. to advocate for the credit union movement, meet with lawmakers to promote transparency in finance, and brainstorm creative member solutions with the nation’s best and brightest financial thinkers.
Over 5,000 credit union activists and professionals are likely to attend the GAC in a given year. Of that number, a select group of young professionals (often around 50) will be invited to participate in an accelerated program featuring a more intensive schedule of activities.
These are the GAC Crashers. Professionals under 35 who have demonstrated outstanding aptitude and commitment to the credit union movement.
This year, Blaine Bartholomew, Assistant Vice President of Member Experience at Unitus, was one of the few selected.
In addition to the standard program, GAC Crashers will participate in extra breakout and keynote discussions, attend mentor sessions featuring thought leaders from the world’s eminent credit union organizations, visit Congress on Capitol Hill, and forge relationships with dedicated professionals across the country.
Blaine shared his insights from this one-of-a-kind experience and what it means for the future of American financial institutions.
For those unfamiliar, what is GAC?
BB: The CUNA Government Affairs Conference is an action-packed 4+ days of credit union advocacy, education, and networking.
Over 5,000 credit union representatives (credit union executives, board members, association officials, young leaders, etc.) attended to help move our industry forward into the future.
The conference is the best event of the year to work with our peers, associations, vendors, and government towards the common goal of improving our industry.
What will you take away most from the experience?
BB: It is difficult to narrow it down to one thing. I met so many great people, and so many with great passion for our movement.
I really enjoyed the great keynote speakers we had the opportunity to listen to this year. It was very interesting to hear former President George W. Bush, President/CEO of CUNA Jim Nussle, Director of the CFPB Mick Mulvaney, and many other informative speakers talk about issues important to us.
BB: I was also struck by the positive power we had as a group at the conference.
As I said, there were over 5,000 credit union representatives, and we were all spending 4+ days working to improve our industry.
I have never seen anything like it. It all came together as we marched to Capitol Hill to meet with our legislators. It was a powerful experience.
What was your own personal objective at GAC this year?
BB: I am still relatively new to the industry, so my main objectives were to jump in head first to connect the dots in terms of advocacy, learn more about the issues facing our industry, and work closely with other CU representatives to learn from each other.
Another objective was to learn about solutions that could improve our member experience at Unitus.
On top of everything I have mentioned, the GAC offers the largest vendor exhibit hall of any credit union event, making it a great opportunity to learn about vendors we can work with to improve our member experience at Unitus.
What new thing(s) did you learn about the credit union movement while you were there?
BB: I learned so much. Probably too much to list.
I learned a lot about bill S. 2155, which is a common sense regulatory relief bill that was nearing a Senate vote when we were in DC. It has since passed the Senate. This bill has a number of provisions that benefit credit unions and our members.
The bill creates parity for credit unions with banks on certain types of apartment loans, which will allow credit unions to help lend more in our communities. The bill adjusts reporting thresholds to allow us to spend more time and investment on our members versus regulatory oversight.
The revisions provide more options for credit unions to help protect our senior members from elder abuse, and much more.
The bill is not a “rollback” of the Dodd-Frank Act nor a loosening of oversight of the nation’s largest banks. It is important to understand this bill does not change regulation of financial institutions over $250 billion in assets (big banks).
In DC, I had the opportunity to be in a meeting with Representative Suzanne Bonamici, and another meeting with Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden where our credit union leaders shared their views on the bill.
Listening to our NWCUA (Northwest Credit Union Association) leadership and our local credit union CEO leadership discuss the issues with our elected officials was a great experience. I learned a lot about the legislative process in terms of advocacy as well.
What surprised you about GAC?
BB: The size, scale, influence, and overall quality of the conference surprised me. I knew it would be a top-notch event based on the number of people that attend, and what I had heard about it, but it totally exceeded my expectations.
How do you believe GAC will influence the credit union movement moving forward?
BB: My hope is that the 5,000+ attendees will stay inspired, and spread their excitement about the credit union movement to friends, family, and coworkers.
Credit unions are a great place for people to handle their finances. I think awareness can be a challenge for people who have never worked with a credit union before.
CUNA unveiled a campaign called “Open Your Eyes” at GAC. This awareness campaign will help the public become more familiar with credit unions.
This campaign has the opportunity to leverage one of the great qualities of the credit union movement: collaboration.
If we all can promote ourselves around this campaign, I think it will be helpful to gain more awareness for our industry.
Posted By: Jacob Schnee
About the Author: Jacob joined Unitus as Marketing Specialist in March 2015 and transitioned to Marketing Communications Specialist in March 2017.
His experience has spanned hospitality, business development, consulting, and marketing in various industries along the east coast, west coast and in between.
When he is not developing internal and external communications for Unitus, he is engaging in recreational fitness, studying personality types and exploring the outdoors with his wife and dog.