By Rick Metsger, Vice Chairman
Back in the Mesozoic Era, otherwise known as my childhood years, I recall attending a party at a friend's house where his grandfather was celebrating his retirement. He had worked decades for the same company. As a parting gift, he was given a gold watch. It seemed strangely odd that someone would give you a watch while simultaneously taking away the only reason in life you had to be on time anymore.
Recognizing someone's faithful service is not easily captured with the sweep hand of a watch or the poetic engravings inscribed on a bronze plaque. Contributions can be obscured by the lens of present-day events. Only in the future can one obtain the 20/20 perspective needed to properly evaluate the impact those contributions ultimately make in an organization's success. Nonetheless, it is important to chronicle events for the history books.
Later this month, Debbie Matz will leave as Chairman of the National Credit Union Administration. She does so after serving the longest tenure of any NCUA Board member in the agency's history, as well as the only Board member appointed to two terms and by presidents of two political parties.
Debbie Matz has spent more than 30 years engaging in the worthy cause of public service in multiple roles in both the legislative and executive branches. Her final chapters, written here at NCUA, read much like a survivalist guide when the story began upon her appointment in the summer of 2009. The financial crisis had crippled capital and dried up liquidity. She may well have wondered whether she was being asked to run a financial agency or a morgue.
Instead of reaching for the embalming fluid, she turned to a defibrillator and an IV. Capital was poured into the system to shock it back to life. Working with determined staff and her fellow Board members, she completed the resuscitation of the system and then began the task of inoculating it from future setbacks. Liquidity requirements improved, capital cushions strengthened, and consumer confidence and trust were enhanced.
During the past 18 months, the rehab now complete, she has led an aggressive agenda focused on helping credit unions keep pace with their members' financial needs through a series of regulatory modernization and relief initiatives. Today, the credit union system is strong, healthy and vibrant.
Her legacy will continue to be written in the years to come. One chapter, which is not yet complete, began in the summer of 2011 when, frustrated by the hundreds of millions of dollars credit unions had to fork over to cover the great Wall Street heist, Chairman Matz became the first federal depository institutions regulator to step into the ring and sue the big banks responsible for sucker punching the credit union system onto the ropes.
With about twelve rounds complete, NCUA has scored multiple blows on behalf of credit unions, yielding more than $3 billion, which will reduce the cost of recovery and make the system stronger. Combined with the skillful management of the legacy assets salvaged from the burning embers of the 2008 meltdown, credit unions may well receive hundreds of millions of dollars back onto their books when the recovery program is complete in 2021. If this occurs, they can thank Chairman Matz for her perseverance and uncompromising commitment to fight for restitution on their behalf.
The role of Chairman is not a growth strategy for increasing the number of "likes" on your Facebook page. Occupying the central role on a regulatory board may more closely resemble the center of a dart board.
Leaders will always have critics. It goes with the territory. But as Theodore Roosevelt observed, "It's not the critic that counts. The credit belongs to those who stand in the arena and spend themselves in a worthy cause." We thank her for spending so much of herself in pursuit of a stronger credit union system for all of America.