Credit Unions: Who’s On Your Board Of Directors?

A recent article in CU Times claims that Trey Reeme of Texas Dow Employees CU in Lake Jackson, TX suggested that:

“60-plus-year old directors looking at the industry’s future should seriously consider stepping down to make way for a generation more connected to new technology.”

My take: This is a ridiculous recommendation, and a careless remark (if quoted accurately). Not to mention age discrimination, but I’m not here to argue about the legal aspects of replacing the 60-somethings on your board of directors.

There are two things that wrankle me about the statement. The first is the implicit assumption that just because someone is 60-ish that they don’t “get it.” Hogwash (not my first choice of words).

In the past year or so, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Gene Blishen, GM of Mt. Lehman CU in Canada. Gene is a Twitter friend, we share comments on our respective blogs, and we’ve met in person a couple of times. I don’t think Gene is 60 (yet), but he’s close enough for our discussion (sorry, Gene).

So, Trey, let me ask you something: Should a guy who blogs, Twitters, runs a Mac-only CU, attends BarCampBank meetings, and spends a month in Denmark, seriously consider stepping down?

And what about Ginny Brady, who’s on the board of directors at UFirst CU in upstate NY? Ginny blogs, twitters, and attends BarCampBank meetings too. Oh wait — it’s OK for her to stay on the board because she’s a woman, right?

The second problem is the implicit assumption that putting a Gen Yer on the board somehow creates “representation” of the technology-connected generation. The problem here, Trey, is what marketers call belly-button research: Taking a sample of one — yourself — and projecting out to the broader population.

So exactly which Gen Yer should a CU put on its board? The problem is, putting anyone person — Gen Yer, woman, Hispanic, etc. — and expecting that that person will “represent” the group they come from is wishful and fallacious thinking.

As much as Trey — and apparently some of my other Twitter friends who chimed in yesterday — think the problem is rooted in too many 60-year-old white guys on the boards of CUs, that’s not the root of the problem (it is a problem, just not the cause).

The root of the problem was hinted at in a recent post on the CU Warrior blog. Writing about a 29 year-old friend of his who’s up for a CU CEO position, the CU Warrior wrote:

“Don’t hire based on age. Hire based on an individual’s ability to move your financial institution in the direction the Board desires. And if your Board doesn’t have that vision, that direction, your needs run deeper than just a vacant CEO position.”

And therein lies the problem with the composition of many CU boards. They didn’t start with a vision of what the board was supposed to accomplish, and what the right set of skills of were to fulfill those goals and vision. And so a bunch of people were chosen — among the few who volunteered — who supposedly “represented” the CU’s membership.

Bottom line: Replacing the 60-somethings on CU boards with 20-somethings is not necessarily the right move. It could be, but it’s more about finding the right Gen Yer — not just any Gen Yer. And replacing the wrong 60-somethings — not the ones making strong contributions to the CU. But it’s got to start with the CEO and chairperson of the board rethinking the purpose, goals, and vision of the board and the CU.

Disclaimer: As I wrote this, I couldn’t help but think that the article might very well have misrepresented Trey’s true thoughts and words. Apologies to Trey if that was the case. But even if that were so, it wouldn’t change the sentiments of this blog post.

UPDATE: Please see this post on Trey’s site for a clarification of what transpired between him and the CU Times reporter.

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