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The importance of a credit union’s board of directors cannot be overstated. The board is critical to the financial success of the institution and its primary role is to protect credit union members’ financial interests. Collectively they bear the legal responsibility to govern the organization.
In my experience as the former CEO of Citizens Bank of Canada and COO of Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union, the credit union board of directors’ duties and responsibilities should be clearly defined. If you don’t know what the job entails, it’s impossible to do it well.
In this practical guide, get up to speed with everything a credit union board of directors is responsible for, what skills they should possess and how they work with credit union management.
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A credit union board of directors is a group of individuals who represent the members or stakeholders of the credit union. Often, the board of directors is elected by the membership such as at the Annual General Meeting. The board acts as the managing executive of the credit union and also represents the credit union on all levels, including in courts of law.
Credit union boards meet regularly to ensure the credit union’s missions are pursued, company goals are met, and all legal requirements and ethical standards are followed. The board decides the direction of the credit union and establishes guidelines on the financial risk the credit union is willing to take.
The number of board members in a credit union ranges between 5 and 12 members, with an average of 7 members. Positions typically include a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, plus additional directors.
The credit union’s primary purpose is not to seek the biggest possible profit or return on assets, it’s to provide quality, low-cost financial services that members need. As credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives designed to provide financial services to their member owners, board directors must always focus on the best interests of the membership as a whole.
At its core, credit union boards are responsible for providing leadership, oversight, and accountability for the organization.
For US Federal Credit Unions, the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) outlines the requirements and duties in full detail.
Credit union directors must have a base level of financial skills that aligns with the size and complexity of the credit union operation they serve. At a minimum, directors must be able to read and understand the credit union’s balance sheet and income statement.
A director must also understand the specific activities in which his or her credit union engages in, including how these activities generate revenue and the potential risks that could lead to financial loss. This may include credit, liquidity, interest rates, compliance, strategic transactions, and reputation risks. It’s also essential that directors understand the internal control
structures at the credit union that limit and manage these risks.
In addition to financial literacy skills and strategic thinking, credit union board members need to have a genuine curiosity and a growing understanding of the members served by the organization. Depending on where the credit unions operate, the needs of the community can vary greatly. From low-income neighborhoods where supporting financial literacy and fair access is key, to credit unions in urban business hubs where networking with entrepreneurs and rapid decision-making around loans may be essential.
Lastly, having high ethical standards and working collaboratively with others are also key characteristics of a good credit union board of directors. According to the Filene Research Institute, credit union boards with various perspectives, experiences, networks, and opinions are better equipped to engage in strategic planning and effective decision-making.
Filence recommends encouraging a culture that promotes trust and accountability with ongoing communication and transparency between CEOs and board directors. Credit union boards can also help enhance board participation and decision-making by encouraging members to be open-minded and support a willingness to speak out.
While a credit union board provides general direction for the credit union, it delegates management functions to senior management. The board also has the authority to hire, fire, determine duties, set compensation, and discipline senior management. To help guide management in the execution of their duties, the board must also ensure the appropriate policies are in place.
Directors need to be informed about what is happening in the credit union to properly direct the credit union. This means it’s important for credit union boards to review information from a number of sources, not just rely solely on the reports of senior management. For example, directors should consider reports from supervisory committees, internal or external auditors, consultants or even request information from credit union employees.
If there’s anything I learned in the credit union board trenches, it’s to communicate, communicate, communicate. Keep your board members very in the loop with shifting financial realities, member needs and risks.
The CEO is the top senior executive in a credit union and has a major impact on the success or failure of the institution. But the credit union board of directors arguably has more power than the top chief executive. This is because the board is ultimately responsible for reviewing the performance of the CEO and if a new candidate is needed, they are responsible for vetting and selecting the candidate.
Board portal software helps credit union board members, chief executives and board administrators stay organized, make timely decisions, provide and run meetings efficiently – from anywhere.
Aprio’s board portal is purpose-built for credit unions to provide efficient access and data security for board information. We help credit union boards centralize their board information and discussions in one place and meet regulatory requirements in less time.
Credit unions are the largest community of customers that we serve and I lead Aprio drawing on firsthand experiences in the credit union community. Learn more about why Aprio is the #1 board software for credit unions.
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