NCUA Board Member Harper Interview on Racial, Economic Divisions: ‘We Can Do More’

“We can do more.”

That was the message National Credit Union Administration board member Todd Harper delivered Thursday, as he outlined his preliminary plans to increase the importance of economic equality and justice in the credit union community.

Harper, in an interview with Washington Credit Union Daily, said the slaying of George Floyd in Minneapolis made him realize that while he fully embraced the issues of diversity, equality and inclusion, he was in a position to tackle the issues head-on.

“I have to step up and come up with a plan of action,” Harper said, as he reflected on the impact of Floyd’s killing. And so, Harper said, he is developing a plan that is still in its preliminary stage.

NCUA Board Member Todd Harper, photo credit NCUA
NCUA Board Member Todd Harper, photo credit NCUA

One goal of his is to ensure that the NCUA builds a diverse workforce and supply chain. Harper said that in recent years, the agency has drastically increased the diversity of its contractors and suppliers. “We’re inviting people to come to the table and bid,” he said.

Harper also said he want to make sure that the concerns of minority employees at the agency are not ignored. He said he is meeting with the agency’s Employee Resource Groups to develop a better understanding of their concerns. “They can have faith that their voices are being heard at the highest level of the agency,” he said.

Harper said the NCUA must do more to assist Minority Depository Institutions, which make up 10% of the nation’s federal credit unions. Through grants and a mentoring program, the NCUA encourages those credit unions to grow, Harper said, adding that he wants to explore how the agency can provide “deeper consulting” to the institutions. “It’s a good start, but we can do more,” he said, repeating a familiar refrain.

Harper wants the NCUA to beef up its fair lending programs, saying that other prudential regulators conduct a larger number of fair lending examinations each year. “I think it’s important to keep a larger focus on our fair lending laws,” he said, adding, “We do have a history in the country of economic injustice and discrimination.”

He believes credit unions must be pushed to do their share to address the wealth gap. For instance, he said, the African American unemployment rate has skyrocketed.

A key component of the effort to increase the importance of diversity and inclusion at the credit union level is the agency’s annual Diversity Self-Assessment. The self-assessment asks credit union officials questions aimed at measuring their commitment to diversity in staffing and procurement. It includes questions about whether a credit union measures its efforts.

Unfortunately, Harper said, few credit unions take the survey. In its 2019 diversity report to Congress, only 118 of the nation’s 5,236 credit unions submitted the survey to the NCUA. Even then, the numbers have increased each year the agency has used the survey. That small number is not good enough, Harper said.

“If you don’t measure something, you won’t manage it,” he said, recalling that one officer of a Texas credit union told him that simply looking at the survey made him think more seriously about his institution’s diversity efforts.

Harper said the NCUA board will continue its efforts to try to convince Congress to increase funding for the agency’s Community Development Revolving Loan fund, which helps credit unions that serve low-income communities.

The issues of diversity and inclusion should be at the forefront of credit union efforts across the country, Harper said. “I think it’s incumbent on credit unions, with their people helping people philosophy, to do more,” he said.

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