Generally keeping things organized and on track is no small feat—and it’s an important one.
Credit union leaders have become increasingly aware of the importance of good governance and have made an effort to ensure that their credit unions are adopting cutting-edge governance and leadership practices. From assessing the effectiveness of their boards and governance systems to updating their governance frameworks, policies and procedures to improving their board structures, committees and charters, good governance is taking center stage.
These efforts—along with the steady workload of supporting a credit union board—require strong leadership from the board chair, CEO and a governance committee, but also from an often-overlooked and under-appreciated staff person—the board liaison. At a minimum, today’s board liaisons help to organize and disseminate meeting materials, plan and support the execution of board meetings and retreats, take minutes, and generally help keep things organized and on track so that the board can do its work.
But more and more, the board liaison’s role is being expanded and now is considered by many a management position that has been tasked to actively support—and improve—the board’s work. In its expanded role, board liaisons also ask a fundamental question regarding good governance: How can the credit union’s board and governance become even more effective?
Those board liaisons with sufficient experience are being tasked to help design and manage the information architecture for the board, ensure the value of board meetings and retreats; coordinate regular governance and strategic assessments, as well as support and guide the board in fulfilling its governance, strategic and leadership responsibilities. They are key players in fostering the governance cultures of their credit union board and, thus, the credit unions themselves.
Historically, the individual tasked with this role has been the CEO’s executive assistant. Why? Generally, because that’s someone the CEO works closely with and trusts, someone who knows the credit union and has easy access to the key players, someone who has the nuanced administrative and people skills required to regularly communicate with board and committee members at the most senior level.
They are, most often, consummate, professional women.
I say “women” because, while a man could certainly perform this critical function, we have met very few men who actually do.
At CUES’ first event for board liaisons, 19 individuals attended—all women—from across the country and from credit unions of varying sizes and complexities. They all agreed that they regularly perform many of a board secretary’s core duties—helping to safeguard the integrity of the governance framework; ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements; implementing the board’s decisions; and facilitating communication with and among the credit union’s leadership.
However, we did learn that there are remarkably different approaches to the role. For example, the title of the person fulfilling the “board liaison” role currently varies a great deal from credit union to credit union (i.e., everything from “chief of staff,” “governance officer” and “board affairs director” to “board & executive relations,” “board administrator” and “board assistant”). And, just as the titles vary, the framing and scope of the position varies, too.
While it’s a critical role, there appears to be no commonly accepted definition of the “board liaison” position within the credit union community at all! Working closely with CUES, other colleagues in the credit union community and board liaisons throughout the U.S. and Canada, we hope to help change this, and encourage a much greater appreciation for and deeper understanding of the importance of today’s board liaisons.
The fact that the board liaison, at least at this early stage of conception, looks to be one that is largely filled by women, is to be celebrated—especially given the expanding and growing role that board liaisons are experiencing in credit union leadership. While there are now twice as many female CEOs in the credit union community as there were 10 years ago, still, less than one in five CEOs is a woman (for credit unions with assets over $1 billion). This is progress, but there still aren’t enough women’s voices among those in credit union leadership positions.
Still, there remains much more to learn about the board liaison position and the vital role women are currently—and should be—playing as they shape the governance of their credit unions.
Caitlin Currin Hatch is senior consultant for CUES strategic provider of governance services, Quantum Governance, Vienna, Virginia. Hatch supports the firm’s clients with more than 25 years of experience in the business and legal sectors. The organization fields more engagements in the credit union community than in any other, a total of 40 percent of its work.