Members Win at SECU Annual Election & One Observer’s Reaction

Following the formal board reports and the one hour Member Feedback Forum  (comments limited to two minutes each), the Chair read the results of the contested election.

The three member-nominated  candidates won all open seats by receiving the three highest vote totals of the six candidates.   Overall 13,335 votes were cast, based on the highest total from each group.   Incumbent directors received 47% and the candidates nominated via petition, 53% of all votes cast.

The new directors, left to right, are Michael Clements,  Barbara Perkins,  and Chuck Stone.


Why the Members Won

Voting is the essence of democracy.   All members had the chance to choose who they wanted to lead this iconic credit union.  That is a choice that rarely occurs in credit unions today.  But now the precedent has been set.

Another fascinating aspect of the meeting was the open Forum.  I counted 32 members who spoke up.  Here are several brief snippets of their remarks, addressed to the full board and CEO.  There were no  responses  given to any of the concerns.

  • A retired 47 year SECU employee:  I’m scared to death with what I see at the credit union. . .Risk based lending (RBL) and card rewards are paid by those who overpay interest.  Open your eyes.
  • Member since ’75.  Got loan as college grad and no credit score. . . against RBL. . . I’ve attained financial security. We should be a community where we help each other.
  • I’m amazed after 85 years that we cannot exist without treating members equally.  RBL is race  based lending.
  • Why is the credit card rate increasing?  If a member wants rewards go to a bank.  If the board wants rewards, they should go to a bank.
  • Transparency is lacking, especially the bylaw changes.  We have been denied democracy.
  • I’ve no prepared comments,  Just hope the board will see that the people here do not support the mindset of this board.
  • Retired 41 year senior employee:  Employees need a service heart for the membership.  Last two years has not been for the benefit of the member.   What I’ve seen breaks my heart.
  • Congratulated new CEO Brady and asked: Please report these comments online.
  • 51 year member.  There’s no term limits for those on stage. Nominating committee selected all board members-an old boys club.  We’re making money, but the members aren’t getting any of it.
  • 39 year SECU employee retired in March ’22.  New leadership wanted to turn us into a bank.
  • 36 year SECU employee.  Rarely saw a credit report without blemishes.  All members equally important.  We made life changing differences for people.

And many more.  There was no dialogue and no responses from the stage even when members posed a question.

One speaker, a new member,  stated that she wished she had known about these comments before she voted as she knew nothing about the candidates or issues except the information in the ballot.

The cumulative effect of these spontaneous, brief observations was overwhelming.  Speakers cared strongly about the credit union and its change of direction.

A long time credit union advocate who watched the meeting sent me this reaction.

This is What Credit Union Democracy Looks Like

This afternoon, my daily routine was disrupted in a good way by the annual meeting of North Carolina’s State Employees Credit Union (SECU), the  $50-billion, 2.7 million member, 85-year old credit union that is the nation’s second largest.

I became a cooperative idealist in the 1970s, first as a food co-op organizer until I was introduced to credit unions when I was charged with organizing one for the farmworker nonprofit I worked for.. . . I was enthralled with credit unions as democratic, egalitarian institutions, created to empower individuals excluded from the for-profit banking system.

I was fortunate enough to be hired by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (rebranded as Inclusiv after I left), becoming CEO in 1983 and serving for nearly 30 years. . .

Over the years , , , I went to my share of annual meetings of our member credit unions, usually not very well attended (except if there were refreshments). It was great to meet members, and it was my job, but truth be told, it was not the liveliest way to spend an evening or weekend afternoon.  

My Life’s Work

The 90-minutes I spent watching SECU’s annual meeting on YouTube reminded me why credit unions became my life work. One after another, SECU members debated recent changes instituted by the board,  most controversially, the introduction of risk-based pricing—the nearly universal practice of U.S. credit unions which  charge members different rates according to the credit score-informed tier they fell into.

Not SECU. For nearly its entire history, it offered the same price for the same loan product for all members.  It was a simple, time-honored, financially successful practice, that fueled SECU’s steady growth. . .

But for some members and the credit union’s recent leadership, that was not good enough. Several speakers argued that the credit union’s savings rates were not competitive; one spoke of his children leaving SECU for better rates at a bank. How would the credit union grow and—well, compete—if it didn’t raise savings rates to retain members? . . .

Speaker after speaker—members of 30 years, 40 years, 50 years—spoke passionately about what SECU had meant to them and others, a place to get the best possible rate even when they were starting out in life, were struggling financially, or had marred credit.

True, risk-based pricing was everywhere in credit unions today—but for those with long memories, it had not always been so. They fully understood that better returns on savings were available elsewhere. But they were staying.

One-tier pricing is radically egalitarian—providing those with fewer financial means the same rates enjoyed by those with immaculate credit scores and ample resources. Except it is hardly radical, and hardly new.

One speaker denounced the strategy as “socialist”: This was North Carolina, he argued, not Russia, China, or Cuba. But I heard no “woke” or progressive rhetoric, only the testimony of people who cared deeply about their fellow North Carolinians and wanted to help them better their lives. “People helping people”—not simply a brand slogan, but an expression of human solidarity.

I spent my career working with small, community-based institutions. As the credit union “movement” became the credit union “industry,” with assets and membership disproportionately concentrated in a minority of institutions, I reluctantly concluded that my ideals and passion were nothing more than a relic.

Today, I thank the members of SECU for the inspiration and hope they gave me.

© Clifford N. Rosenthal


2 Replies to “Members Win at SECU Annual Election & One Observer’s Reaction”

  1. Thank you to Chip and to Cliff for these remarks. NCSECU does need to update some technology and some practices BUT treating members differently based on credit scores, deposits and/or income are NOT and NEVER should be considered. ALL members should be treated the same. “Do the right thing” is NOT a cute phrase – it is the essence of who NCSECU is and the members clearly spoke that they agree. May the new Board members help to return NCSECU to that role.

    1. Sue, allow me to offer a counterpoint in favor of risk-based lending (and further risk-based pricing as an extension of RBL). You’re correct that not pricing loans based on an individual member’s creditworthiness or DTI is equal treatment. However, how does that equal treatment give incentive for the individual to improve their financial condition? Further, how does it balance the risk/return equation for the cooperative as a whole? While a one-dimensional view of RBL is that it treats people differently for the benefit of the CU as an enterprise, I would offer that RBL is both a tool to encourage strong fiscal responsibility for the member (singular) while improving the return of the member (plural).

      I don’t know the extent to which SECU makes loans to those with thin or zero credit profiles. My assumption is that it’s likely done in a responsible fashion with appropriate pricing to offset the risk. That member has not yet proven their ability to repay and thus poses a greater risk to their peers’ equity stake. They should be charged proportionately more interest (bear in mind, I’m not advocating for what many banks or finance companies would charge; the rate should be far beneath the state’s code for usery). For a member who has demonstrated their creditworthiness and has practiced thrift, that should come with a reward. Again, it should not be disproportionate but should recognize and even honor their loyalty despite having a broader range of provider options now.

      Lastly, I would challenge those who advocated against the changes which took place over the past couple of years—especially those who railed against opaque leadership—to share what proportion of their wealth is held at SECU. It’s been shared that SECU’s dividend rates have historically been lower due to a lack of RBL pricing. For those who benefited from this as a borrowing member several decades prior, are they returning that benefit to the younger members of the cooperative by keeping the whole of their savings at SECU? My instincts say likely not.

      While legacy members often do not like to see change because it chafes their sentiment, that does not mean the change is wrong or unneeded. I’m glad to see the democratic process at work at SECU but I am concerned that the critical mass of borrowers and those with high transactional frequency—the younger members’ voice was not fully heard.

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