Credit Unions and "A Sense of Community"
Marshall McLuhan, the world-renowned communications icon first coined the terms "global village" and "the medium is the message." Today the business of credit unions is the constant invention of new membership villages - community charters, global outreach, new messages, new mediums, and growing confrontations with old financial village merchants (banks). In Canada, the local village dwellers are up in arms as the chartered banks close more and more branch offices. They question the banks' motives. They express their sense of abandonment, and call upon government to intervene, to force corporations to have a heart, to have a `sense of community' that balances human need against economics. These concerns are at the very root of what constitutes and confronts their sense of community. Obviously, these bank customers feel that if you can't trust the corporation, if you can't feel safe, if customer loyalty over many decades doesn't really mean anything, then what are their alternatives? Fortunately, excellent credit unions provide the alternative because they truly understand what it means to have a `sense of community.' They work hard at establishing a human (as well as physical) identity in the community. They work at integrating the practical application of workable credit union goals with community expectations. They employ methods, processes and activities that propel credit union values and build community recognition and acceptance. Excellent credit unions are constantly aware of the changing social structures within their membership communities and employ basic street smarts to keep in step with the known and anticipated changes within their communities. In Manitoba, the credit union system has purchased dozens of abandoned bank branch offices and established credit union services for the villagers. Such opportunities are rare, however they demonstrate what is possible when your longer-term sense of community takes precedence over short-term profitability. Excellent credit unions consider numerous factors that interconnect their economic operation with the social and other factors that constitute their membership community - their global village. The most common components of sense of community include: 1. A sense of identity and presence. Modern buildings, professional signage, financial instruments (checks, credit cards, etc.) passing through the community, volunteer involvement, tasteful advertising, and other activities that give "visibility" to the credit union, on the main street and in the mainstream of the financial and business community. 2. A sense of being in-step with the community. Demonstrating that people are more important than dollars. Encouraging self-help enterprise, thrift, provident and productive borrowing activities and providing financial advisory services. Becoming involved in community affairs by providing the means and resources appropriate to the challenge. 3. A sense of consumerism. Constantly developing meaningful programs and services that members might productively utilize in conducting their financial affairs. Credit unions will find a way to drive the Pay-Day Loan companies and high rate check-cashers out of business; they did it years ago. 4. A sense of community security. Assisting the community to restore, reclaim, maintain, or free itself from economic or social concerns. More and more credit unions are becoming involved in issues that impact their membership community. There are countless stories of credit union providing the initiative, the funding, and the human talent to address a community security or safety issue. 5. A sense of community support. Giving the time, talent and treasury to support community endeavor. Involving board members, staff, and senior management in community service. My credit union CEO has co-chaired the United Way drive in Winnipeg and will be the Chairman in 2005. 5. A sense of economic development. The credit union serves as a local conduit for the collective betterment of the community. The money comes from the community and is reinvested in the community for the overall benefit of the community and its inhabitants. These initiatives and others send a powerful message - the medium is the message - to the credit unions' global village. A shared vision and sense of community is a powerful concept that credit unions must practice to grow and succeed. To greatly influence where individuals from the community might direct their current and future financial resources is at the root of credit union business activity. As U.S. credit unions expand their membership outreach to include the entire population of towns, cities and regions, they will have to change their focus from rear view mirror to windshield. They cannot march backwards into a successful future. Outdated practices, dearly held convictions, and long standing corporate names may still have a fit with the old membership (e.g., Plumbers and Pipefitters Federal Credit Union) but absolutely no marketability with the new FOM villagers. Welcome to the global village where conviction and trust is earned through a demonstrated sense of understanding, caring and delivering. In the words of Marshall McLuhan, "When a thing is current, it creates currency!" Ray Bauschke is general manager of Bauschke & Associates Ltd, a management consulting firm, and Human Resource Tools, Winnepeg, Manitoba. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.