The institute was founded May 31, 1989, as credit union system leaders sought a new outlet for academic and forward-looking research focused on the specific needs of credit unions. Filene has grown with the times and today offers consumer finance research, innovation and thought leadership to all credit unions.
"Today's leaders are so busy running our credit unions that it's hard to be as forward thinking as we should be," says Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, chairman of the Filene Research Institute and CEO of the $1.6 billion Travis Credit Union, Vacaville, Calif. "Filene Research forces us to look ahead. That's a real benefit," she says.
Since 1989, Filene has published nearly 250 academic monographs, white papers, briefs and policy documents from researchers at Harvard, Cornell, Stanford, Oxford and dozens of other universities and institutions. Major works include "Field of Membership: An Evolving Concept," which helped lay the groundwork for the Credit Union Membership Access Act; "Taxation of Credit Unions," which examines the actual numbers behind a charged issue; and several recent works on alternative capital.
In 2000, Filene added credit union innovation to its portfolio.
"The board wanted Filene to be a place where credit unions could test new and even far-out ideas without fear of failure," said the institute's executive director, Mark Meyer, who first came to Filene as innovation director in 2003. Since then, Filene piloted REAL Solutions to explore credit union services for modest-means and low-wealth households.
REAL Solutions has since become the flagship program for the National Credit Union Foundation.
And since 2007, Filene has been driving CU Tomorrow, a collaborative nationwide effort to help credit unions make themselves more relevant to a rising next generation of members.
The Filene Research Institute also launched the i3 group in 2004; i3 stands for ideas, innovation and implementation. Today the group has 22 active members and 64 alumni innovating in credit unions across North America, 14 of whom have since become CEOs. Noteworthy i3 projects include prize-linked savings, MatriMoney, lifestyle lending, the savings revolution, smart score and more than two dozen more.
"Twenty years ago, the institute's founders could not have foreseen the world credit unions would be facing. But that's precisely the reason for an organization like Filene: to think and to prepare credit unions for futures we can't yet see," Meyer said.