To Serve Man
Despite the chilling weather that winter brings, the holiday season is the time of year that makes enduring cold temperatures worthwhile. Aside from Christmas carols, gift shopping and spending memorable moments with relatives and friends, I look forward to television marathons with great anticipation. This past Thanksgiving holiday, I had the great fortune of watching three back-to-back days of “Star Trek, the Original Series” including episodes from the “Next Generation” – a sci-fi aficionado's dream weekend. Soon, the New Year will be fast upon us, but not before it is ushered in by yet another marathon featuring “The Twilight Zone.” With cigarette in hand, Rod Serling will appear out of nowhere or from a “wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination” as he begins to narrate various thematic episodes dealing with a plethora of societal issues, ills and idiosyncrasies. One such episode that comes to mind is the all too familiar “To Serve Man.”
In that story, Earth is visited by extraterrestrial beings called Kanamits (a reverse twist on the biblical giants named Anakims) who came with a message to provide aid to humanity. Serling described these telepathic aliens with a height over nine feet tall and weight at about 350 pounds. One day a Kanamit representative addressed the United Nations and left a book written in his language and in a text that was unknown to humans. Eventually, a female scientist deciphered the book's title that read “To Serve Man.” She alone out of all the brilliant minds had the ability and the wherewithal to decode it. However, the contents of the book still remained uninterpretable and a mystery.
Shortly thereafter, the Kanamits began to make good on their promise to aid humanity through the implementation of worldwide advances in technology, agriculture, energy and nuclear disarmament. Earth was thriving and with the planet now trusting the Kanamits, a volunteer exchange program was established. People were now being transported to the Kanamit home world. Soon thereafter, the scientist who decoded the title of the Kanamit book, “To Serve Man,” discovered that it was actually filled with recipes on how to serve humans as meals. As her colleague friend boarded the next flight to the alien planet, she urged him not to get on the spaceship and shouted, “To Serve Man – it's a cookbook!” But it was too late; the Kanamit closed the hatch and he was on his way to another world.
Predatory lenders also come in peace. They promise you the world. They offer you the best deals and the fastest delivery channels. But, once the fine print on the agreement is deciphered and later disclosed, you soon discover that your finances are ingredients in a recipe for your financial demise. Predatory lenders justify their actions in the name of providing access to credit to those who need it. That rationale may very well be true. However it begs the question, at what cost to the borrower? Predatory behavior is deceptive conduct. Cons, price gouging, and bait and switch schemes are often most effective when the victims are found in desperate situations.
The true call to serve mankind is a high ideal. It is neither self-aggrandizing nor self-promoting. Rather, to serve man puts people before profits and places the interests of others ahead of one's own. It's what credit unions were formed to do. Serving others is engrained in the credit union philosophy, “not for charity, not for profit, but for service.” This is what makes credit unions different from other financial institutions and most certainly from nontraditional financial intermediaries like payday lenders. They were forged out of the struggles of ordinary people trying to make ends meet at reasonable and affordable costs. This Main Street philosophy enabled the local farmer to grow and harvest crops, the small business to meet payroll demands and the working class family to buy their first home.
Double entendre aside, credits unions were created to serve man. Their boards and supervisory committees consist of volunteers who are trusted with the general management and oversight over the financial affairs of their fellow member- owners. The cooperative structure makes every member an equal co-owner of the institution. Credit unions were not responsible for the financial crisis of 2007 to 2008. For the most part, credit unions did not engage in the no-money-down, interest-only, no-credit-check mortgage schemes. Underwriting standards were not lowered just to make a profit; neither was risk reallocated via the bundling and sale of mortgages to secondary markets and investors. Rather, member-owners received affordable and reasonable loan products with understandable terms that provided full disclosure.
In some instances, loan modifications were granted when members fell on hard times. Members were confident in knowing that the credit union was servicing their mortgage and could rest assured they were speaking to a representative of the institution. Credit unions were not established to be in the business to hold or foreclose on real property. They want members to succeed. Because of the member-owner structure, there is no need for credit unions to engage in unnecessary risk-taking as a short-term strategy to profit shareholders. On the contrary, credit unions adopt long-term approaches to benefit member interests and to develop relationships of trust.
Beware of lenders bearing gifts! True service is honorable and without gimmicks, and comes with no strings attached. Credit unions are here to serve man. That is the credit union difference.
Mark S. Brantley, Esq. is director of Municipal Credit Union. He can be reached at 347-835-2047 or firstname.lastname@example.org.