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Willard Discusses Latest News and Changes at Cornerstone
Tuesday, September 11, 2018 7:00 AM

At last week's Leadership Conference and Expo, Cornerstone Credit Union League President and CEO Caroline Willard updated attendees on the latest news for the League and Credit Union Resources.

Willard recalled last year's Leadership Conference when credit unions were still reeling from the after-effects of Hurricane Harvey. She had only just assumed the helm at Cornerstone in March.

"That natural disaster was certainly an emotional crescendo for all of us in the region," she said. "And it was one of a handful of environmental factors to which we at Cornerstone needed to respond. I have to admit that it sometimes felt like I was swinging at pitches as they came. I’m pleased to say that we’ve now put a long-term organizational strategic plan into place, and we are executing on that plan."

Willard said she has leaned on the credit union tradition of sharing best practices, so "we’re occasionally adopting some things that other leagues are doing well, but just as often, we’re stepping out as the leader within the movement."  

"We now how have a clear vision for building a rock-solid value proposition, and for evolving into a more responsive, efficient, and progressive organization," she added. 

Willard covered some of the highlights from a few key functional areas of the organization, including awareness, advocacy, education, and service. 


"I believe one of the most important things we as a trade association need to do for our members is create better awareness of the category," she said. "This requires coordination across hundreds (and in fact, ultimately, thousands) of individual credit unions."

She told the crowd that she and Jon Gorman, SVP communications, have been working closely with Douglas Kiker and others at CUNA to brainstorm a way to dovetail CUNA’s "Open Your Eyes" national awareness initiative with Cornerstone's signature awareness campaign “Feel the Difference.”  

"We are extremely proud of the work that our Awareness Committee has done, and we want to honor that as we move forward," she said. "Having said that, we also believe that our movement is too fragmented, so we want to lift the awareness of the credit union category as a whole." 

CUNA recently announced that they seek to raise $100 million for a three-year awareness campaign, and are working with the leagues to ask the top 340 U.S. credit unions for contributions. Gorman and Willard will present a proposal to the Cornerstone board and awareness committee that details how they might roll this out in the Cornerstone region.


As always, Cornerstone's goal is to provide a favorable operating environment for credit unions to help make it easier for them to serve their communities. Willard touched on the American Disabilities Act (ADA) and the successes experienced in defending credit unions against frivolous lawsuits. Three Cornerstone credit unions have had their cases dismissed after the association filed amicus briefs on their behalf.

"While we were starting to be hopeful that things were quieting down with this issue, it’s looking like we may need to defend a credit union in a lawsuit that is set to go to trial in June of next year," Willard said. "We expect to begin fundraising in Q1 to build up the Defense Fund."  

Willard also addressed the latest bankers' ploy to divide the credit union system by asking small credit unions to write letters to Congress in support of taxing the large credit unions. She cautioned attendees about falling prey to the scheme and reminded the audience that it’s not the asset size or the products and services offered that makes a credit union a credit union.

"We have been working diligently to pick winners for the midterm election, as it’s important for even freshmen lawmakers to understand the power of the credit union movement," Willard said. "We work closely with CUNA to coordinate state and federal-level priorities."

She said the advocacy team is already preparing for the 2019 state legislative sessions, as all three of the Cornerstone state legislatures will be in regular session from January through May 2019. 


"Every once in a while, a regulatory issue comes up that’s so confounding that a majority of our credit unions ask us for help with interpretation," said Willard. "CECL is one of those issues."

Willard said that to address the CECL issue, Cornerstone has provided several educational sessions that will help credit unions prepare for implementation of the new standard. Just last week another CECL training event was delivered by professionals from Credit Union Resources, CU Direct, Visible Equity, and SerTech.

Credit Union Resources

"We have transformed the way we evaluate the partnerships that your service corporation brings to you," Willard said, pointing to the shut-down of a few business lines, and employing a new litmus test to determine what Cornerstone launches in the future.

"What’s most important is that we offer services that are relevant for you, and help you deliver better service to your members," she added.  

Willard pointed to the association's new chief growth officer, Barb Lowman, to carry out this mission. Lowman was previously the right-hand person to Mark Sievewright, former president of Credit Union Solutions at Fiserv.

"At the end of the day, we are a trade association that believes in interdependence," Willard said. "Your dues dollars support Cornerstone and a system that gives back in more ways than can be measured via ROI. Whether we consider $2 million in Hurricane Harvey relief, combined federal and regional action combating frivolous and opportunistic ADA lawsuits, or a regulatory relief package that passed through our federal government and was signed into law by our president, your dues dollars ensure that an interdependent system supports your success right in your backyards."

"We are working diligently on efficiencies and scale to ensure our focus is on you, our affiliated credit unions," Willard added. "We don’t intend to sit on our laurels and find comfort in our past success. We aim to evolve just as you are evolving in service to your members. We are committed to a servant leadership in the credit union system that has not been seen in modern times. That’s my commitment to you."