Two Endnotes Going Into 2024

Excerpts from two perspectives for sustaining success as we head into the New Year.

Dream or Die

“All social entities or movements need dreams, which can be defined as an indispensable capacity to envision a future for themselves that considers both the practical means at hand and a higher ideal. Societies that do not dream are doomed to die.

“We have no knowledge of any human community where men do fail to dream,” writes Irving Kristol. “Which is to say, we know of no human community whose members do not have a vision of perfection—a vision in which the frustrations inherent in our human condition are annulled and transcended.”*

Source: *Kristol, Two Cheers for Capitalism, pg 153

JPMorgan’s $4 Trillion Balance Sheet Widens Lead Over Rivals – Firm has added the equivalent of one Wells Fargo since financial crisis

“As the spring bloodbath among regional banks began, nervous depositors with more than $50 billion began showing up at JPMorgan’s door. Bank executives went on to raise expectations for net interest income four times throughout the year, eventually pulling in so much cash that managers have taken to warning of “over-earning.”

“That’s put JPMorgan on track for the biggest annual profit in the history of American banking. Analysts predict that by the end of this month, its annual net income will be 36% higher than last year.

“By comparison, the combined earnings of the next five largest banks looks to be about 1%. For JPMorgan and its chief executive, Jamie Dimon, it was a year like no other.”  (Source:  Bloomberg, December 27, 2023)

As we turn the calendar’s page, which approach will be your credit union’s priority?

Credit Unions and Popular Culture

Yesterday’s post on The Bank of Dave was a tru-ish movie about an actual effort to organize a local financial institution focused on the needs of the town of Burnley.  Dave Fishwick, a real person, was the hero.  The antagonists were regulatory bureaucrats, lawyers and of course entrenched financial institutions.

As in It’s a Wonderful Life, the founder Dave  is portrayed as someone serving the common good versus personal profit.  The movie’s message is that this person’s purpose is one that present day  society should honor and support.

How are credit unions portrayed in popular American culture?  Are there any movies, books, plays or other artistic recognition of their special history?

Last night I attended a performance of The Seafarer, a play about Irish life by Conor McPherson. The scene is Christmas eve. The four personal friends drink for camaraderie and to cover the darkness in their lives.

A fifth character (Lockhart), the devil in disguise, enters to participate in a poker game, the main action (after drinking) of the second act.

This inebriated poker rounds are a metaphor for Lockhart’s stated intention of capturing the soul of Sharky, a character trying to give up drinking.

During the final betting round, the stakes go higher, and all raise with the last money they have on hand. At that moment the lead character challenges one of the other players, “Where are you going to get your stake?  From the credit union?”

In the midst of this realistic-surrealistic tale is a direct reference to a financial  reality an Irish audience would understand.  The play was written in 2006 as credit unions were becoming more widely available in Ireland, a generation-long process.

Similarly, The Bank of Dave is set in the post 2008/9 financial crisis in Great Britain when consumer lending was unavailable.  Current day  viewers would be familiar with the real circumstances motivating Dave’s initiative.

American Culture and Credit Unions

Where and how are credit unions referenced currently or in past American literature?  Is there a Norman Rockwell painting that illustrates this financial opportunity for a  common person? Or a story of a local entrepreneur lifting up the community with a cooperative charter?

Is the credit union story so prosaic that the occasional coverage in the business section of the paper or on CNN/MSNBC captures our public reputation and contributions?

Have the many remarkable achievements of local credit unions been so taken for granted, that they are now just another ready option in the financial marketplace?

Have credit unions so lost their unique cooperative character that American culture and ordinary citizens, no longer see them as doing something special?





A Credit Union-Like Story: The Bank of Dave

Just released and streaming on Netflix is a movie The Bank of Dave.  Set in Burnley in the north of England, it is the story of a local van seller who sought the first new banking license to be issued in 150 years in the UK.  It is a contemporary version of Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life.

Dave’s intent is “not about me making money” but creating jobs and the quality of life for the whole community.  Profits will go to charity.

For the Financial Regulatory Board, the question is not can it succeed, but rather should it exist?

All the incumbents want to preserve the status quo where a few, large “financial supermarkets” dominate the economy.  Dave’s local proposal is not the “right sized bank.”

Dave must overcome established bureaucratic opposition, a very high capital requirement (twelve million pounds) and entrenched scepticism that a new financial model is necessary.

You can read the status of his efforts today in this article about the movie, Dave Fishwick’s life and his ongoing campaign.

Although he faced resistance at every step, Dave eventually made good on his dream, opening Burnley Savings and Loans in 2011, and using “Bank on Dave!” as the company’s slogan.

The Message and Credit Unions

Dave in life and in the film is a pillar of the community.  His dream is political, not just financial. Banking should not be reserved for the rich and powerful.  Rather in a community, it is the ordinary people who define what that institution should be.

His goal is to have a bank that “looks after the community.”  He wants  a better way, than the current system,  of helping each other where and how we can.  That is Dave’s vision of what community is about.

The parallels with the credit union story are many.  This includes the entrenched resistance to new charters and the  ever present temptation to leave behind those that created the institutions which dominate markets today.

The Bank of Dave is a timeless story about money and who gets to control its use and distribution.   It is a reminder that financial institutions are built first on trust in the people who lead them.

When that trust and connection is lacking, then others will move to fill the needs that are no longer served.

If you still need convincing about the Dave’s of this world, here is an interview with this real Dave.


The Bells on Christmas Day-In Ukraine

From James Russell Lowell’s poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas dayTheir old familiar carols playAnd mild and sweet their songs repeatOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

And in despair I bowed my head“There is no peace on Earth, ” I saidFor hate is strong and mocks the songOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

Ukrainian Christmas Scenes

This year Ukraine moved the celebration of Orthodox Christmas to December 25.

“The trident, or “tryzub,” remains one of Ukraine’s most iconic symbols. Shaped like a spear with three prongs, its history goes back centuries. Volodymyr the Great included the symbol on coins when he ruled Kyiv from 980 to 1015.” (wikipedia)

McDonald’s deliveries.

A tree of shell canisters.

A video report from the Kiev Independent that captures the spirit of hope.

Then rang the bells more loud and deepGod is not dead, nor doth He sleep(Peace on Earth)(Peace on Earth)The wrong shall fail, the right prevailWith peace on Earth, good will to men
Then ringing, singing on its wayThe world revolved from night to dayA voice, a chime, a chant sublimeOf peace on Earth, good will to men

For Christmas Day

We live in a time, as in many eras, of no peace and human needs most plentiful.  How is it that we can be merry?  Or have hope?

The poem by Rossetti speaks to this mixed reality especially jarring this year.

A Rose Has Thorns as well as Honey

by Christina Rossetti

A rose has thorns as well as honey,
I’ll not have her for love or money;
An iris grows so straight and fine,
That she shall be no friend of mine;
Snowdrops like the snow would chill me;
Nightshade would caress and kill me;
Crocus like a spear would fright me;
Dragon’s-mouth might bark or bite me;
Convolvulus but blooms to die;
A wind-flower suggests a sigh;
Love-lies-bleeding makes me sad;
And poppy-juice would drive me mad:—
But give me holly, bold and jolly,
Honest, prickly, shining holly;
Pluck me holly leaf and berry
For the day when I make merry.

The Rose’s Honey: The most recorded Christmas carol, a moment where all is calm and bright.

Love’s Thorns-Making Merry

A different way to celebrate the season’s complex reality: Fairytale of New York, by Shane MacGowan.

An Irish Christmas story performed two weeks ago at the composer’s  funeral.  (from wikipedia) “Shane Patrick MacGowan (25 December 1957 – 30 November 2023) was a British-born Irish[a] singer-songwriter and musician best known as the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of Celtic punk band the Pogues.”

My colleagues Ed Callahan and Bucky Sebastian always told me Irish funerals were to be joyous events. At this service two weeks ago the congregation sings and dances to this ballad of an all too human realty this time of year.

Please share your joy with all you meet today by giving each a Christmas Hug.

Christmas eve’s rising moon.


Bethesda’s Christmas North Pole

St. John’s Episcopal Church, Norwood Parish, has sponsored an Opportunity Shop since the early 1950’s.

All the merchandise is donated by the public.  The employees are volunteers.  The entire net income is donated to local charities.

The shop attracts items that are unusual, in good shape and often  found nowhere else.  Most are  inexpensive.  Christmas items will be 50% off on Friday and 75% on Saturday.

A simple sign for a community resource

The shop offers all manner of gifts: CD’s, books, clothing/shoes, kitchen and tableware, jewelry, dozens of framed paintings/prints, electronics and lamps, and collector’s items such as carved wooden sculptures.   The examples below are only for Christmas-themed items.

A collection of dolls

Three kings amid serving dishes

A holiday wall quilt

Rabbit and cat dolls

A clothes tree full of stockings

Cookie tins

A multi tiered creche–one of many different nativity creations

Father Christmas dressed for winter-in different garments

Small toys upon toys

Momma Claus

I’m off to shop now!  And if you are sceptical as to whether commerce and Christmas can co-exist, here is an example from Germany.


Seasonal Markets In DC

Special Christmas stalls in DC’s downtown fill the street in front of the American Portrait Gallery.

The American Cowboy sculpture on steps of the Portrait Gallery with strings of white Christmas lights.

The  booths side by side

Blown glassworks of sea-life and other creatures

Hand painted wooden  dolls and ornaments

Decorated Santas and Saints

Feathered art

Christmas wear

Painted egg ornaments for trees

1,000 piece jigsaw puzzles of familiar covers and ads

Heading home

Preparations for the Season

Christmas decorations at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church

Advent wreath

Christmas flowers-Lo How Roses Ere Blooming

The tree with wrapping paper chains and  children’s decorations

Indoor wreaths

Bell choir at the ready

An empty sanctuary waiting for Christmas eve worshippers

At the National Cathedral’s nativity scene animals, shepherds, magi,  Joseph and children are ready to welcome baby Jesus and Mary on Christmas eve.

A Praiseworthy Life

Christmas is a time when we remember, honor and celebrate people whose life was the gift of service to others.

Credit unions attract and provide fertile ground for  persons with this character.  They create an ideal platform for assisting others at important junctures in their lives.

These individuals’ efforts are not measured solely by numbers; more important is the personal legacy of bringing “soul” to their work in the movement.

The following tribute to a long-serving credit union employee is by Jim Blaine.

James McArthur Williams (1943-2023)

Why do we so often become confused when taking the measure of greatness? Why are we so easily distracted – and dazzled – by the spectacle, the swank, and the swagger? Why do we so often miss who is truly important – and what really makes a difference in each of our lives?

Had the privilege of attending the funeral of a great man last week at St. Paul A.M.E. Church in downtown Raleigh. James Williams was a beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, cousin, and friend. He married his high school sweetheart Ginger; he called her “Bread“. They had two children – JaSonne Yvette and James Eric.

James Williams was a veteran, 33rd degree Mason, Emeritus Board Steward in his church, graduate – and beyond ardent supporter – of his HBCU, “THE” North Carolina Central University  – “Go War Eagles!“. James was a devoted family man at heart, loved traveling, and as an empty-nester, cruising with Ginger. A full life – important, meaningful.

James Williams came to work at the State Employees’ Credit Union in 1973. That was 50 years ago. That seems like a long, long time ago. Much has changed in that time, much hasn’t.

James McArthur Williams was the first Black employee to work at SECU. He faced some unusual challenges, not of his making. But he persevered, he persisted. James Williams was a senior lender at SECU for over a quarter of a century. No individual was more important in building the reputation for integrity and fairness at State Employees’ Credit Union than James McArthur Williams. With humor, grace, and kindness, James Williams navigated all the “historical difficulties”; he left a positive mark on all he touched; because he knew how you felt – he had walked in your shoes.

Thank you, James Williams, for helping me and many, many others to understand better. 

Can an organization have a soul? As a faithful “soul man”, James McArthur Williams spent a lifetime showing us there is a path…

Can you measure greatness in people and in institutions? Here is what SECU members say:

 “James will long be remembered as a person who showed many of us how to overcome obstacles in the world of finance. He demystified bank forms and protocols. And most importantly, he always encouraged patrons of SECU as we realized with God all things are possible!”

“James was our greatest ally at the State Employees’ Credit Union.”

“James and Ginger are two of the warmest people you’d ever want to meet. Many state employees knew James through the State Employees Credit Union in downtown Raleigh.”

Thank you, Sir!

Observations From NCUA’s 2024 Budget Approval

After a public hearing, multiple written comments and some give and take between board members, these are some of my initial observations from last Thursday’s board meeting on the 2024 Agency Budget.

  1. Only .02% of 1% was reduced  in the final budget of $385.7 million by the board from the initial staff amount.
  2. No discussion of why the Office of Information Serves (i.e. computer support) depends on contractors for 71% of its operations totalling $44.5 million.
  3. A 16.4% in the federal credit union operating fee when the Operating Fund’s cash on hand now would almost cover a full year’s expenses.  Or why the $24 million “carry forward” from 2023 (unspent  amounts collected) is not returned to credit unions, but “reallocated” to 2024.
  4. Why only four new charters justifies a 18% increase and 41 staff in the office of Credit Union Resources and Expansion(CURE); also when the industry’s total numbers declined by almost 170 credit unions.
  5. Most curious was the increases in staff to a total of 23 and 20% budget raise to $6.4 million in the Asset Management and Assistance center when the total reported losses to date in the NCUSIF are just $1.0 million. The remaining corporate AME’s are to be disbursed soon.  The office is spends more on staff than on the assets it oversees.
  6.  The CLF’s $2.2 million budget is nothing more than an effort to transfer NCUA’s overhead expenses to another set of books which credit unions fund separately. The CLF’s 4.62% third quarter dividend was at least .75% below what credit unions could earn in the overnight market, meaning NCUA requires members to subsidize this inert operation.

There are multiple other expenditures that appear with no specific goals or outcomes.   The board discussions were general observations.  Credit unions deserve more coherent and specific details to have confidence in how their funds are used.

In the spirit of the season, this cartoon caught my eye.  It summarizes NCUA’s budget review from a credit union perspective.