Banker attacks, bank conversions, intense competition, hostile takeovers. All these threats mean credit unions can't keep the credit union advantage a secret, they must promote it. "It's Your Credit Union! The Story of Credit Union Membership"
What's this? This is the title of a brochure that I would have sitting in the lobbies of all my branches if I were running a credit union. It's short, sweet and to the point. Here it is: What does it mean to be a credit union member? How does it differ from being a "customer" of a bank?
As a credit union member, you have ownership in the credit union and you share in the success of the credit union. Congratulations, you are a member-owner!
The concept of a credit union is for members to pool their collective money to meet their borrowing and saving needs. That is the only purpose of a credit union. Unlike banks where shareholders have invested in the bank and have a stake in the bank's performance, credit union members are in essence the shareholders. The better a credit union performs, the more money that is returned to members in the form of higher savings rates and lower loan rates. In many cases, members also receive bonus dividends at year-end as the credit union returns excess earnings to its members. Outsiders do not have a stake in the credit union?
Take comfort in knowing there are no outside interests affecting your credit union. At banks, most shareholders are not customers of the bank. They represent an outsider interest that bank management must satisfy by delivering high profits that offer shareholders a better return on their investment. This can often mean higher and more fees for customers. At your credit union, there are no outside interests controlling the credit union's direction. The only stakeholders are the member-owners. Credit unions do not exist to make profits, but to serve their members. Studies show credit unions offer better rates and charge lower fees than banks. Credit unions are nonprofit, cooperatives. Why should I care?
Credit unions are nonprofit cooperatives and thus exempt from federal income tax. This allows them to offer better rates and more cost-effective products to their members. The tax-exemption does not come without a price. Credit unions have operational restrictions. For example, they cannot issue shares to raise capital as banks can and credit unions can only serve members within their field of membership, whereas banks can serve all consumers.
Credit unions are part of a larger cooperative system. Just as members share in the success that the cooperative structure of the credit union offers, each individual credit union benefits from a larger nationwide cooperative credit union system that allows them to deliver cost-effective products and services to its membership. For example, there are nationwide credit union-owned ATM and branch networks that offer members surcharge-free access to their money and allow them to utilize thousands of credit union branches throughout the country. That is the cooperative credit union model in action! Did you know you determine who is setting the credit union's policy?
The board of directors of your credit union is made up of unpaid volunteers. All board members are members of the credit union and have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure the safety and soundness of the credit union. They are tasked with setting policy that best helps the credit union remain healthy and also best serve its membership.
The board of directors is where the democratic nature of credit unions shines through. Credit union directors are elected by you, the member! All members, regardless of money on deposit or lending activity, have one vote. This one member-one vote power does not exist at banks.
Most credit union directors serve three-year terms at which point they can be re-elected or move off the board. The members have many opportunities to decide who represents them on the board. Do credit unions have a mission?
Yes, the credit union mission is to promote financial literacy and help their members achieve financial health. Credit unions understand that financial health is a key ingredient for its members to meet their life goals. Credit unions are engaged in many efforts, both locally and nationally, to help members become financially fit. How can you help your credit union become even stronger?
The best way to help your credit union is to use as many of its products and services as possible. The more business you do with the credit union, the more successful it will be. Credit union success equals better rates, products and services and bonus dividends for its members! Are credit unions facing any serious challenges?
Yes, credit unions continue to face attacks from the banking industry. Banks are spending millions of dollars on lobbying efforts to remove the credit union tax-exemption. If successful, taxation would end the cooperative credit union system. Fortunately, credit unions have a terrific story to tell and lawmakers understand the important role they play in the financial services industry. Still, credit unions need all the help they can get to continue to battle the banks. Ask your credit union's management what you can do to help. --Comments? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org