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One of the biggest challenges facing credit unions today is the ability to maintain the unique credit union cooperative spirit we have successfully built over the past 100 years. Cooperation does not mean a lack of competition. But, as competition increases, are we beginning to turn from the cooperative network that credit unions built, own, and have a say in its governance? Yes, I am referring to the corporate network. It seems that natural person credit unions are turning more outside of the corporate network for a particular solution or need. In addition, more and more credit unions are spending resources re-inventing solutions. I question if credit unions are using the corporate network to their maximum benefit. Credit unions have an ownership interest in the network; why not support it? Corporates exist to serve credit unions and they are likely to offer a competitive solution. Corporate credit unions are not vendors. Even though we take pride in offering a full range of credit union-designed products and services at competitive rates, we are not just another run-of-the-mill vendor. Corporates are worlds apart from typical vendors because we are credit unions, too! We embody the same cooperative values and core philosophies that all credit unions are built upon. This is an important distinction over vendors’ agendas and should not be overlooked. Competition is a factor in our economy competition is a good thing for several reasons. Competition affects the end result of the products and services that are offered whether you are a natural-person credit union or a corporate credit union. We all have a common goal to fulfill the members’ needs. Competition drives the development of the best products and services possible, and inspires us to be the best we can be-in short, it keeps us on our toes. As a whole, the Credit Union Network has evolved, and it is up to us to ensure that it evolves for the better. We seem to be less cooperative and more competitive these days. As an industry, we need to come to grips with this competitive environment through cooperation and solidarity-it will undoubtedly make us stronger. Credit unions should not compete at the peril of cooperation. We need to balance competition and cooperation for our collective future. When corporates strike this balance of competition and cooperation, it helps build the best possible products and services for its members. When credit unions turn to corporates three important things happen: (1) capital stays within the Network to help fund new products and services; (2) greater efficiencies and economies-of-scale are realized; and, (3) it helps ensure credit unions’ independence from other financial institutions. Also, corporates do not compete against credit unions; they do not seek consumer business. Yet, an outside vendor may be a viable and very real competitor. It’s scary that some credit unions do not consider this factor when selecting solutions to fulfill their needs. Corporates were originally founded, several decades ago, to provide a source of liquidity for natural-person credit unions. There was a need for a central source of liquidity and corporates were created from that need. We have long grown from the days of being a source of liquidity only-which is still an important role-to that of a “modern” corporate offering a full spectrum of credit union designed products and services. Corporates have responded to the emerging needs of credit unions, and to the needs of their members, by developing and offering a complete line of affordable products and services that enable credit unions to remain competitive in the financial marketplace. Corporates continually re-invent themselves; the growth of corporate-owned CUSOs is a great example of that re-invention. A credit union need was identified, and a solution for that need was developed. Credit unions may not be aware of the newer developments corporates (and their CUSOs) bring to the table. Admittedly, some of these corporate developments did not even exist five or 10 years ago. Therefore, even credit unions that currently use a corporate for several services may not be fully aware of the corporate’s product and service depth. Corporates offer products and services that fit all sizes and types of credit unions. And, if a need is not being met, I highly encourage you to communicate that need to the Corporate Credit Union Network. Through credit union input, products and services are developed by corporates that benefit credit unions. If you haven’t looked at corporates recently, I urge you to look again. There is nothing to lose. The make up of credit union leadership is changing. More and more individuals without credit union experience or knowledge in our unique philosophies are joining the cooperative movement. They often bring with them new ideas and ways of doing things that can benefit their credit union, as well as the industry as a whole. But at the same time, these new leaders may not be fully aware of what corporates have to offer. Do they understand the benefits, opportunities, and unique cooperative philosophy upon which the Corporate Credit Union Network is built? I don’t know. Credit unions appear to be moving away from these core cooperative philosophies, and the pendulum is swinging over towards the “bottom line” way of doing business. While the bottom line is important, we lose our uniqueness if the pendulum swings too far. Don’t we already have our fair share of financial institutions that think the “bottom line” is the end all? Let’s not join them. In closing, I would like to share my experience of learning what credit unions were all about. I first started working for Empire Corporate in 1986 and like many “converts,” I hailed from a bank. I remember taking several classes, reading a bunch of trade materials, and listening intently when anybody spoke about “The Credit Union Philosophy.” I was an eager learner. But, to be honest, it was not until several months later that I realized there is no magic switch you can turn to “get” what credit unions are all about-you have to live it. And living it is what credit unions do everyday. It’s simply the way we do business and the way we treat members, all members. It comes down to people and we are cooperatives that truly care about our members, the people.

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