October has been a month noted for its many observances. We've all enjoyed the Columbus Day holiday and are now primed for Halloween this weekend, but did you know that October was also National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, National Book Month and even National Chili Month?
Of course, for all of us in the credit union community, we know October as Cooperative Awareness Month and the third Thursday of October as International Credit Union Day.
We marked the latter just last week. I was at Credit Union House in Washington D.C. where along with the CEOs of the World Council, CUNA, The Filene Institute, and the National Cooperative Business Association--we presented a Web-TV discussion on the role of credit unions in today's world. Paul Berry, the host of the program, posed a variety of questions. Why do we celebrate the cooperative heritage of credit unions? Are credit unions succeeding in their mission? Where are they falling short and where do we go from here?
The hour-long discussion was certainly one of the best I've heard in the last 10 years. While it offered listeners a variety of honest thought-provoking insights and perspectives on what credit unions mean to their members and the communities which they serve, I suspect it also generated reactions that may have been less than positive.
For instance, if what I hear within the system today is accurate, there are many who would shun an International Credit Union Day celebration. That's because these executives are deeply concerned about the vitality of their credit union, fearing that there is no way they can continue to maintain the profitability of the business model given the assessments they are facing, shrinking margins and a stagnant lending environment. Their view of the future is not bright and I fear they are loosing all hope. But that should not have to be the case.
Surely, any one individual attempting to wrestle with what presents itself as an insurmountable challenge can easily find him or herself loosing all hope. But who has dictated that this challenge be faced individually? Let's not forget that our very nature as financial cooperatives provides the remedy we seek.
The real message demonstrated during last week's Web-TV program from Credit Union House was one of cooperation. By working together--cooperatively--we muster a strength that none of us can achieve individually. Hearing the CEOs from WOCCU and CUNA join voices with our cooperative cousins at the NCBA and the researchers at the Filene Institute, proved to me that the future can be promising and successful. It all depends on our willingness to engage one another in honest and respectful dialogue; to deepen the channels of communication we have with one another and throughout the industry, and most important, to stretch out a helping cooperative hand to those credit union execs who feel alone and isolated. People helping people implies helping one another as well.
The ongoing vitality and success of credit unions will not be determined by the absence of strict regulations, insurance assessments, economic turmoil, or even taxation. Rather, it will be one determined by us; how we draw from our heritage and the extent to which we are willing to cooperate with each other.
Walt Laskos, DE, is the principal of The Laskos Group.