Credit unions began as a revolutionary idea of people helping people by pooling together resources and encouraging self-help.
Today, credit unions are the leaders of the cooperative industry in assets, income, wages, employees and other significant categories.
Next year is Year of the Co-ops, and credit unions now have the chance to use this as an advantage by linking with other cooperatives and getting great press coverage. Doing this can grow our membership and loans (consumer and business). And best of all, it can distinguish us in a big way.
Credit unions have managed to take a significant chunk of potential business away from banks through our superior service, better rates and lower fees. The post-World War II and ’70s and ’80s eras gave credit unions a constant stream of new members fed up with banks.
All parties must come to an end. The explosive growth that credit unions once enjoyed is nonexistent today. In whispered tones behind closed doors, some wonder whether the credit union phenomenon is losing its luster.
In an increasingly fast-moving, digitized world, some fear that people have begun to shun credit unions. Many credit unions have felt the pressure of added regulations and a population that increasingly does not understand what credit unions are. The answer has frequently been to become more like a community bank.
This is a viable option but will eventually lead to our obsolescence.
With the upcoming International Year of Co-ops, there is no better time than now for credit union executives to do some soul searching and review their current paths.
The cooperative principles stand to unite us, while heaps of regulations and messaging clutter threaten to drive us apart. The Year of Co-ops stands to remind the public of our mission and our relevance.
In 2012, I implore credit union professionals to see the benefit in building meaningful bridges with area cooperatives and providing support for workers in the cooperative sector.
My credit union has been adding cooperatives to our field of membership since 2001 and has recently joined with other cooperatives to form the Valley Cooperative Business Association, which is dedicated to expanding and advancing our region’s cooperative economy. This activity distinguishes us not only from banks but also, sadly, from many other credit unions.
Sean Capaloff-Jones is manager of member outreach at U-Mass Five College FCU in Hadley, Mass.
The Crash Network is a grassroots organization of more than 100 young credit union professionals. Its activities include meetings, mentorships online collaboration and development projects.