​​Asking the Right Questions: How Do We Make Things Even Better?

In early May, I was honored when President Barack Obama designated me to be the new NCUA Board Chairman to replace outgoing Chairman Debbie Matz. I look forward to this new role and to working with fellow Board member J. Mark McWatters and agency staff to fulfill the agency's long-standing mission to keep the credit union system safe and sound.

You may not know I once served for eight years as a volunteer director on a credit union board in Oregon, an experience I thoroughly enjoyed. My then-fellow credit union board directors and I had a fiduciary duty to our members to make sure the credit union was using its limited resources strategically and efficiently.

We already had a great credit union, but always strived to make it even better. I take the value of this proven fiduciary approach to heart here in my new role as NCUA Board Chairman. Back then, we continually listened carefully to both credit union staff and the members about their needs or frustrations, and we worked with the CEO to ensure management addressed these ever-evolving needs in smart and effective ways.

For me, this still holds true today. As the financial services industry and credit union risk landscape evolves, it is important to me that NCUA smartly adapt. We must commensurately and continually improve our current processes to operate efficiently and effectively.

As the government-backed insurer for the credit union system and the regulator of federally chartered credit unions, the agency faces some challenges similar to the ones credit unions wrestle with.

  • How can we improve our operations and processes and be more responsive to credit union (member) requests, while keeping costs down?
  • How can we best use existing and new technology as a tool, to do our jobs better?
  • As regulators, how can we conduct future credit union exams in ways that minimize any disruptive operational impacts on a credit union when we visit?

I strongly believe that credit union boards and management should have the strategic flexibilities you need to responsibly control your credit union's future. I also firmly believe that proper regulatory safeguards must be in place to protect the system and the Share Insurance Fund, which is our congressional mandate.

I've found the staff here at NCUA to be professional, talented, smart and dedicated. They care about credit unions. They want credit unions to succeed. Like credit unions do with their staff, NCUA needs to continue to train our staff and further develop their skill sets, to challenge them and help them grow.

The Road Ahead

So, what's ahead for NCUA? The comment period recently closed on our Strategic Plan 2017–2021, which lays out our goals for the next four years, and I'll be going over the comments we received closely.

Related to the process of plan implementation, I am asking NCUA staff to conduct a thorough review and analysis of key agency processes that drive the core of our mission, asking key questions, such as:

  • How can we better use technology to do our jobs?
  • How can we improve or further streamline processes or procedures, and be more responsive to requests from credit unions?
  • How can we best measure and be held accountable for our performance? I like to call this approach CQI—meaning Continual Quality Improvement.

When I was a State Senator in Oregon, my colleagues in the Senate and I dealt with hundreds of policy issues. Then, as now, I don't believe I have special wisdom to know every answer to every big question, but I do know that often the best way to lead is to ask the right question to the right people.

In my experience, posing problems as questions—"How can we make this better?"—and crowdsourcing those questions to everyone with a direct stake—like agency examiners and specialists, credit unions, borrowers, depositors and the public—is more likely to yield the best answer. I intend to continually employ this approach as Chairman.

As the financial services world evolves and credit unions by necessity adapt, so to must regulators like NCUA evolve and adapt. We need to keep up with change.

For example, we need to utilize new technological and analytical tools to improve our monitoring capabilities and examination procedures. This will enable examiners to spend more time off-site reviewing credit union data and reduce their exam footprint on-site. That means less disruption at examined credit unions and less examiner travel time away from home. Everyone wins. Reducing our presence in credit unions can also be a first step in modernizing our examinations to target risk and reduce burden on well-run credit unions.

Here in our nation's capital, spring has sprung. Like many of you, each spring I usually go through my closet and do a little spring-cleaning. Over the next few months, NCUA will be engaged in its own deliberative spring cleaning to determine what specific internal processes here, if any, need to be mended, altered, discarded, thoroughly washed, or if they are still as "ready to wear" as the first day used.

I'll be asking questions and listening. As we face the future together, let's both—the regulator and the regulated—commit to provide further flexibility where market evolution warrants, to exercise restraint where prudent and to have the wisdom to know the difference.