A look at the credit union landscape as Dan Berger celebrates milestone as NAFCU’s president and CEO
Not many people can say they’ve led an organization through one of the worst crises in modern history, let alone three. Dan Berger can.
Berger joined NAFCU in 2006 as head of the association’s government affairs department. Shortly after, the world experienced the most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression. Brought on by overzealous, risky mortgage lending practices, the 2008 financial crisis drastically altered the financial services landscape and people’s perceptions of banking institutions.
Fast-forward to 2020 and a global pandemic. The world was brought to a halt and life as we knew it completely changed in just one day. As people were forced to stay home, businesses across all industries faced the unprecedented challenge of operating in a socially distanced, remote environment.
Just as life was beginning to return to normal in 2023, the U.S. financial system faced another crisis: the three largest bank failures since 2008. Initial reviews into what went wrong at the large, regional banks brought flashbacks to the housing crisis—poor bank management and risky decision making, spurred by profit-seeking executives and unmitigated concerns from regulators.
Doing Right by Credit Unions
Although the policymaking pendulum tends to swing wildly in response to crises, NAFCU and the credit union industry have unwavering leadership and a strong advocate in Berger to ensure regulations are not overly burdensome or restrictive of growth. And when bad policies are passed, Berger isn’t afraid of NAFCU taking a hard stance—the association has earned its reputation of being credit unions’ voice in Washington as it listens to members’ needs and builds its strategy based on feedback and data.
In response to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, NAFCU was the only credit union trade association to advocate against the formation of the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau (CFPB) and its authority over credit unions. Berger reminded lawmakers and the bureau of this in 2020—on the Dodd-Frank Act’s own 10-year anniversary:
“Today marks ten years since the Dodd Frank Act was signed into law and nine since the CFPB opened its doors. With them, we are reminded of the egregious practices of Wall Street that caused the 2008 financial crisis,” Berger said. “We are also reminded, however, that small community financial institutions were incorrectly looped into the 2010 law despite not being responsible for bringing the economy to its knees. Credit unions have had to do more with much less resources complying with regulations created to reign in big banks.
“It’s time the credit union industry finally be exempt from the CFPB’s authority, for the Bureau to be led by a bipartisan commission, and for policymakers to work towards reforming rules that will create an environment where credit unions can better strengthen their members and communities.”
Today, Berger is urging Congress to hold the bureau accountable and holding strong in his resolve to end their “War on Main Street” as it pursues misguided policies that will hurt consumers and small businesses the most—the very people and entities the CFPB was created to protect.
When businesses were struggling to keep their doors open amid the pandemic and access to credit tightened, NAFCU was instrumental in ensuring credit unions were included as lenders in the critically important Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
As consumers’ trust in banks is once again tested, NAFCU and Berger stand ready to tout the credit union difference. Berger championed the credit union difference in the wake of recent bank failures and the safety and soundness of the industry.
“For years, Americans have dealt with the consequences of risky bank behavior. The contrast in decision making was even clearer after the recent bank failures,” Berger wrote in an April op-ed. “Banks are comfortable to choose the risky path, chasing yields and losing consumers’ money, while credit unions are safe, secure, and reliable. Only about 50% of bank deposits are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) compared to roughly 90% of credit union deposits backed by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA). No one has ever lost a penny of insured share deposits in the credit union system.”
Advocacy: The Core of NAFCU—and Berger
When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, Berger says he knew in middle school he wanted to be a lobbyist. He got his start in politics and policy by volunteering with local campaigns, and after earning degrees from Florida State University and Harvard, came to Washington to serve as chief of staff for a member of Congress.
He had other roles within government relations and financial services before coming to NAFCU, but it’s also notable that the mission and service of credit unions had been instilled in Berger far before he entered the industry. To him, it’s personal. And it always has been. Credit unions are where his parents banked, and his local institution gave him his first auto loan.
When it comes to advocacy, Berger believes that staying true to NAFCU’s mission is paramount. And this strong belief was fostered during his time leading the NAFCU’s government affairs team.
The association is a non-partisan organization, with a team of lobbyists who build relationships on both sides of the aisle. On the regulatory side, the association is tough when the situation calls for it, while always remaining willing to collaborate and share analyses and recommendations. This kind of constructive relationship with regulators has been key to various industry wins throughout Berger’s tenure.
As a direct membership association, NAFCU’s success is bolstered by feedback from member credit unions. Using insights from members through various channels, coupled with guidance from the NAFCU Board of Directors, the association tackles a robust list of priorities each year.
When stepping into his role as president and CEO, Berger grabbed the wheel seamlessly and saw a clear path ahead. He narrowed down what was core to NAFCU’s mission and, moving forward, all items under the top three buckets of advocacy, compliance, and education were prioritized.
While this focus was ever-present, Berger remained nimble and ready to adapt to the credit union’s ever-evolving industry. Shortly after taking the role, Berger spearheaded the decision to open NAFCU’s membership to federally-insured, state-chartered credit unions, marking a historic move to advocate on behalf of even more credit unions and strengthening the association’s impact on federal issues.
As credit unions strengthened and grew under Berger’s leadership, so did NAFCU. In May 2023, NAFCU membership represented 63% of all credit union assets, a nearly 20% increase since Berger took the helm. But he is not shy to shift the credit on NAFCU’s Staff, which he deems the organization’s best asset.
Berger often explains his approach to management is one of servant leadership. NAFCU’s success makes clear that by taking care of employees and the team, they in turn take care of NAFCU members. The association’s employees are trained to be mission-driven with a laser focus on serving members. Having an extreme member service mindset allows NAFCU staff to not only remain accountable, but to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Consistently communicating the “Why” of NAFCU and actually living it out is something Berger takes very seriously. He also understands you can’t expect that of your employees without a positive work environment and strong organizational culture.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, NAFCU quickly shifted from an in-office routine to a fully remote working environment like most organizations. Without daily in-person connections, Berger made it a priority for employees to remain connected and engaged. The creation of NAFCU’s Culture Committee is just one example of this effort. The Culture Committee organizes unique opportunities for both virtual and in-person gatherings, shares a monthly newsletter highlighting employee insights, and often finds ways to live out the NAFCU “Why” by coordinating employee volunteer work in the community. In addition to being member-driven, NAFCU’s mission is one of passion and excellence, all of which Berger prioritizes in every decision he makes. He remains focused on the strength and growth of the organizations’ members and passionate about his team and the industry and will continue to strive for excellence as he leads the association forward.