Government Affairs Conference (GAC)

by Sara Portis

Coastal Employee

Coastal News

February isn’t only about celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day, Black History Month, Mardi Gras, Presidents Day or Groundhogs Day, this year, we celebrated Credit Union awesomeness at the Governmental Affairs Conference, aka GAC, held in D.C.  If you’ve chosen a career to serve your community through a local credit union, then you’ve heard of it.  The crème de la crème of conferences in the credit union kingdom and the who’s who in the industry make their journey to meet with colleagues, supporters, vendors, and law makers to talk about current issues and future goals.  And what’s great about the credit union community, it’s all about giving and having a public service mindset.  Each year, executives from credit unions throughout our vast nation pick their young and talented shining stars to pass the baton to.  This young group of professional up and comers in our industry crash the conference, #crasherfam and #CrashtheGAC18, to eventually take the reins. 

This year, seventy-eight young professionals from credit unions big and small had the privilege to embarked on this journey to make a difference.  #CrashtheGAC2018 was the largest group of crashers in history to attend.  ‘Where are the crashers in the house?  YAAAAA YAAAAA’ - If you were there, you get it.  #CrashtheGAC18 was brought to you by the Cooperative Trust which is sponsored by Filene Research Institute, CUNA, CUNA Mutual Group, and VISA.

2018 was a record year for GAC.  Check this out…  Over 5,000+ credit union professionals represented over a thousand credit unions.  They attended over 600 meetings in less than a week, networked with over 28 vendors and schmoozed with members of congress, senators and even Presidents.  Well, one president – PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH.  Now, he had a hard time during his presidency and before watching him speak during his keynote, I had my reservations and prejudices.  But watching him speak to a room of over 5,000 people and take it to a personal level was inspiring.  He was a normal dude.  A son, a father, a brother, and a friend.  Someone that wants to make a positive impact and spoke on the ‘Importance of Public Service” and “Meeting the Needs of everyday Americans.”  Jim Nussle echoed the sentiment by saying, “It was truly my pleasure to discuss the current state of the nation and the power of collaboration and public service with President Bush, as these principles are the core of the credit union philosophy.”

Public Service is People Helping People, which is a core value of the credit union industry and is rooted in all of the decisions that we make for our members, employees, and our community.  President Bush stated that public service is not just serving as an officer in our country, but it’s someone who is serving someone else for the greater good and meeting the needs of everyday Americans in our community.  The People Helping People theme was carried throughout the sessions.  Scott Stratten, CEO of UnMarketing, acknowledged that empowering employees to be that public servant is allowing them to create their personal brand and represent your credit union’s brand.  He stated, “Your employees are your brand.  Every time you decide to answer the phone or not answer the phone, that’s branding.  Every time you decide to reply to that email or not reply, that’s branding.”

This truly resonated with me.  What does it mean to build your brand?  More specifically, what do I want the Sara Portis brand to be?  What do I want people THINK when they say Sara Portis?  And more importantly, what do I want people to FEEL when they say Sara Portis?  A great example of someone that has built their brand of being a public servant, an innovator, and a leader in the credit union industry for over forty years, is my own CEO Chuck Purvis at Coastal Credit Union.  During GAC, I had the honor and pleasure to attend the Wegner Awards dinner with Chuck, his family, our board members, and our senior management team to watch him accept the 2018 Herb Wegner Memorial Award.  This dinner is the Oscars of the industry, and being selected for the Herb Wegner Memorial Award is like winning best Actor at the Oscars - the highest achievement in the credit union industry.  Talk about inspiration!  Chuck, my CEO, was honored with this recognition and it was truly an inspiration to have been there for such a momentous occasion in his career.  Congratulations to you Chuck, we have big shoes to fill at Coastal and now I understand your drive at Coastal.  It was amazing being with Chuck at GAC.  Everyone knew him.  As I walked around with him, people were coming to him left and right, like an all-star.  Now that’s a brand!

One of my take-aways from GAC is controlling my brand.  Key word – controlling.  I have the power to define my brand. 

We each have the power to control our brand.  We can take action to make our brand a reality. 

OMG!  If the Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers seriously work and play as hard as they do in GAC – I bow before them.  The schedule is insane, intense, and crazy cool.  You wake up at 5:00am, go to breakfast, and by 7:00am sharp you’re in your first session.  Then you go to a GAC general session and a 15-minute walk back to a crasher session.  By the time lunch comes at 11:45am, your brain has barely enough power to hold on.  But the adrenaline, oh the sweet nectar of adrenaline…  That’s what keeps you going.  Afternoon sessions consisted of Advocacy updates from CUNA and industry insights from the Leadership team of Filene, CUNA Mutual Group, Visa, and National Credit Union Foundation.  You think you’re done by 5:00pm?  Nope, you just had your appetizer.  Now it’s the main course, off to the evening events and vendor presentations.  Desert constitutes an after party at a whiskey and bourbon bar or watching Kevin Bacon and the Bacon Brothers in a private venue where your eyes are dry, your throat is raspy from all the talking, and your feet are killing you from those cute pumps.  After all, it’s about fashion over comfort.

If you were privileged enough to attend #CrashtheGAC18, then you experienced a pivotal point in your career.  A point where you realize you’re here to make a difference and it’s not about the Benjamin’s. As Antonio Neves said during his powerful session to us #crashers, “Don’t let this be the best experience you have had in your life.” And Gian Paul Gonzales, “When you keep going, when others tell you to quit, when you don’t stop when other people tell you you’re wasting your time, go #Allin and make #Allin a LIFESTYLE.”

So, I challenge each and every #Crasher to keep this fire alive.  The feeling of success we felt while at #CrashtheGAC18, the inspiration we felt watching the keynote speakers, and the promises we all made to ourselves must be kept alive.  We must remember the voices in our head that told us at GAC – you’re awesome!  You’re a star!  You’re going to make real impact when you get back.  We mustn’t forget that voice of success.  Let’s make a difference.  Together, we can make a positive change in our community and make this world a better a place – One Member at a Time. 

Picture of the event

Government Affairs Conference (GAC)


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