I find it quite ironic that the timing of two issues of paramount importance will soon be arriving together at every credit union's doorstep, demanding immediate attention and action.
In the months ahead, credit unions will be challenged to either maintain their liquidity, investment and settlement services within the cooperative system, or go outside of the system for such services. At the same time, credit unions will be encouraged to celebrate their cooperative heritage by marking the United Nations Year of Cooperatives in 2012.
I don't know about you but I believe that the credit union movement is at a critical juncture of unprecedented caliber in its history. We are facing choices of great importance in the months to come, requiring business decisions governed by facts, details and analysis. Our future as a movement and as financial cooperatives will either grow stronger and more united by these decisions, or weaker and even more divided.
My personal opinion (and this is only me talking now as a development educator) is when we take business outside of the system, we do exactly the opposite of what we preach each day to consumers. (And let me tell you, if anyone knows anything about preaching, it's me!)
If credit unions are the best deal in town, then why would a credit union choose a bank, or the Fed or another provider over a self-governed, member-owned cooperative, espousing the same principles and values as the credit union itself? I understand that there may be exceptions, but in principle, how can a cooperative justify such action?
I also believe that opting to go outside of the cooperative system is not an excuse for doing what's right for the member. If we fundamentally hold the conviction that a cooperative business model offers more value, including an ability to provide better rates and services through aggregation, and in fact, shows evidence to support such beliefs, then again, how is it justified for a cooperative to secure business elsewhere?
One consequence I see of going outside of the system is that it puts the credit union doing so in a precarious situation as it looks for ways to participate in the International Year of Cooperatives in 2012.
If we within the credit union movement are to mark the Year of Cooperatives, then isn't it reasonable to conclude that we first all fully embrace our cooperative nature, herald its values and act in ways that are in alignment with those values and principles? In other words, do we live the credit union legacy?
A few weeks ago, I found myself on Bainbridge Island, just across the sound from Seattle. I was there to help mentor a group of credit union and co-op executives attending the development education program at the Islandwood School.
Credit Union DEs have all participated in this intense, week-long program that engenders within each one of us a greater understanding and appreciation of the credit union system, its cooperative values and principles, development issues that exist on a national and global level, and how credit unions, through their cooperative business model, exercise a distinct ability and responsibility in addressing those issues.
Being in the presence of this newest class of DEs, I could not help but be caught up once again in the enthusiasm for our cooperative model and how by working together, credit unions can generate a power and influence that far exceeds that of any one credit union acting independently. Those who pioneered the Rochdale Principles as well as credit unions understood completely the significance of that collective strength.
The world and the news media in particular, will all be watching and reporting on us closely during the Year of Cooperatives in 2012. My hope is that the words and actions of credit unions as America's financial cooperatives will befit the legacy handed down to us by Ed Filene and Roy Bergengren.
Walt Laskos does public relations work at Western Corporate FCU.