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MADISON, Wis. — A new study from the Filene Research Institute suggests that credit unions shift their operations in a more sustainable direction, partly to help them overcome the limits of their own success.

Stuart Hart, a professor of sustainable enterprise at Cornell University, and a colleague, Monica Touesnard, conducted the study.

“Rather than competing directly with banks, Hart and Touesnard conclude it may make more sense for credit unions to go ‘back to the future’ by using their unique historical and organizational characteristics (e.g., tax-exempt status, cooperative ownership, community lending and focus on the underserved) to offer a set of products and services that differentiate them from banks and other financial services providers,” wrote George Hofheimer, chief research officer for Filene in an introduction to the report. In the beginning, credit unions as financial cooperatives served the financial needs of people who were largely overlooked and ignored by a traditional banking industry intent on serving the needs of business or wealthier classes of people, the authors argued. But over time, the banking industry has changed to offer financial services in a more universal way and, ironically, credit unions have not become more like banks but banks have become more like credit unions, they added.

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