PROLOGUE From my book SHOULDERING THE COST: One Credit Union CEO’s Take on the Great Banking Collapse of 2008. Available on Amazon in KOndle or paperback.
“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” --- Vicki Harrison
Love and laughter used to live in this home. Now, it’s empty.
I remember thinking this on Father’s Day 2010 when my wife and I felt forced to sell our home in Sarasota, Florida and were moving to rural NE Georgia facing an uncertain future. My heart no longer resided in my chest. It resided in my shoes taking a crushing blow with each step I took toward what would no longer be my front door.
The last three years had been bad, really bad. The Great Recession, which started in December 2007, according to the “experts,” began a lot earlier in S.W. Florida. Those same “experts” claimed it was over, but there was still pain throughout the country caused by high unemployment and the loss of real estate values. Moreover, it was pain that I knew all-too-well and was still struggling to overcome each and every day.
I had no job, or prospects for one, and to say that I was angry and resentful would not come close to covering the sharp-edge cutting through my soul.
Not knowing that our world was going to crash even more, my wife and I had purchased a mountain home with the plan to work another six or so years. Once we retired, we’d use the mountain house for vacations and live there in the summers. The decision to sell our Florida house was entirely an economic one. We could no longer afford to live there full-time.
After 39 years of serving and helping others—the last 25 years as a Credit Union CEO, I was cast off. What had been my calling and never just a job to me was taken away. I am not the first, nor the last, to lose a job. And this is not a sob story. It is a first-hand account of the failure of leadership at many levels. I hope that you will, as I have, take the lessons to be learned from this to your heart.
The experiences and actions taken by banking regulators were not unique to me and my credit union. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other Credit Union CEO’s went through comparable treatment.
Some contributors to this book provided their own experiences with the request that their identity not be disclosed as they are still employed in the credit union movement and fear retaliation. Others asked that their names be attributed with a bit of incitement.
I have been advised by many in the industry that I am taking on the biggest machines I can take on and warned that they play dirty. The big machines I’m referring to are the federal and state regulatory systems. They can literally ban a person for life from working in a financial institution. They can issue a Letter of Understanding (LUA) or worse, a Document of Resolution (DOR), which compels a board of directors to comply with whatever action the regulators deem is needed to protect the deposit insurance fund, including blocking or granting preapproval of the hiring of executives.
Be not fooled. The federal and state regulatory agencies do not give a shit about you, your credit union or bank, its employees, your board of directors or your members (customers). It’s George Orwell’s 1984 all over again.
For this story to contain verifiable references and sources for each citation, it would require the participation of persons and agencies that are unwilling to do so. I accept the fact that we all have First Amendment Rights, and this book does cast big shadows on the character, intelligence and capability of high-ranking people. I, of all people, understand that there is nothing more devastating to a person’s soul than a false accusation. And I assure you, I make no false accusations in this book. It’s the truth…as ugly as it is.
The terms regulator and examiner are odious in this context. The reality is that those pejorative terms describe what happened to the entire credit union movement. I once believed that Credit Union CEO’s, Directors and Examiners were the people in the white hats. It never crossed my mind back then that those persons could be much more than economical with the truth.
Believing at all times that I was in communication with honorable persons; meticulous logs of every conversation or event were not maintained. There were witnesses to almost all incidents. On more than one occasion, a recording was made of the exit interviews and copies were provided to the examiners present. Often, our attorney was present or participated by conference call.
The persons and agencies that had a role in my experiences are living and can corroborate the facts. But do not expect that they will. These are incidents of situational ethics, intentional harm and pretty lies. I have no illusions that they will now or ever demonstrate honorableness, integrity or principles.
My story is an illustration of how ethics, honor, and leadership are fundamentally missing in the regulatory system and in some credit unions. My intent is not to demonize or vilify. My intent is to show that undesirable and unethical behaviors destroyed and continue to destroy not only our banking and financial systems but also careers and lives.
Could the message be delivered with a more sensitive approach? Perhaps. But this is not an exit interview conducted by a seasoned human resources director, trained to make or give a dire situation a positive spin. It is a story of a massive collision of egos in which none of the parties handle themselves with distinction, including, and most importantly, myself.
When leaders attain the lofty position of a Paragon of Trust, the fall is life-threatening. There is a quote in Genesis 5:24: “Enoch walked with the Lord; and then he was no more, for God took him.” The most wonderful interpretation I have heard of that passage is attributed to Rev. Dr. W. Frank Harrington, Senior Pastor, Peachtree Presbyterian Church Atlanta. He summed it up as: “Every day Enoch walked with God and God walked with Enoch. Each day they walked a little further together until one day they walked so far that God said to Enoch, ‘We are closer to my house than yours…why don’t you come home with me?’”
Banking and Financial Leaders have walked so far away from honor and integrity that perhaps all that is left to do is put the system to rest and begin anew. The pendulum has swung so far that regaining integrity and public trust may not be attainable.