Come on CUs, Collaborate!!
I enjoy reading Credit Union Times and always make it a point to read Mike Welch's column. I am sure that his Aug. 31 column and Paul Gentile's front page article on the retirement of Cliff Dias will prompt some gut wrenching responses. The facts, however, are inescapble. Where once there were 24,000 credit unions there are now just 9,000 and the number is shrinking by the day. The day that Katrina struck may have dealt the biggest single blow to credit unions in our history. The point I would like to make is that liquidating and merging are not the only choices that a credit union has to choose from. There is collaboration. Collaboration is not something that comes easily to most credit unions. Credit unions are an independent lot. They are willing to cooperate, but only to a certain point. They would rather argue about the font type on some form rather than use another credit union's documents. I believe the old saying is "pride goeth before a fall". My credit union, Services Center Federal Credit Union, is $23 million in assets and has 5,700 members. We are a community based credit union serving four counties in southeastern South Dakota. We have one county within our field of membership that has an average population of four people per square mile. And yet we collaborate through our CUSO, CU*Answers. Through this collaboration we are not 5,700 members but 800,000 members. We are not $23 million in assets but over $5 billion in assets. We don't serve just four counties but we serve members in 13 states from New York to Florida to Texas to Washington. When I go to a vendor and want a new service, I am not just a little credit union from South Dakota, I am the proverbial 800,000-member CUSO (gorilla) that demands and gets some respect. The credit unions collaborating in this CUSO range in size from 925 members and $1.3 million in assets to 59,000 members and almost $500 million in assets. This diversity is not a weakness but a strength. Because of our diversity even the $500 million credit union has services and features that would not be available to them if they stood on their own. When a merger takes place two credit unions become one. When a credit union is liquidated one becomes zero. Either way, in my opinion, credit unions as a whole are diminished when a merger or liquidation occurs. But when credit unions collaborate the sum of the parts is greater than the whole or to put it more simply when credit unions collaborate one plus one equals some number greater than two. As I said at the outset pride goeth before a fall. Unless credit unions begin to collaborate there will be a lot more falls. David J. Wright CEO Services Center Federal Credit Union Yankton, S.D.