Just as we have never seen a presidential administration as unusual as our current one, we have never in our recent history seen such powerful political activism and discussion taking place nationwide.
My social media news feeds are filled with rants about President Trump’s latest appalling comment, instructions on how to call your congressmen and urge them not to confirm a controversial cabinet pick, and full-on fights in comment sections ignited by emotional citizens from both sides of the aisle. The Women’s March on Jan. 21 drew between three and four million protesters, Fortune reported. And organizations that might be threatened under a Trump administration saw a spike in donations – for example, Planned Parenthood received nearly 80,000 donations in the week after Trump’s election and the American Civil Liberties Union saw contributions increase by 7,000%, Time reported in November. The activity has made the Iraq War protests of 2003, which I remember vividly from my college days, look like a measly warm-up.
Another unusual thing happening is that numerous companies are coming out, either in a public statement or an ad, with their own opinions on Trump. The wave started at the end of January, when ride-sharing service Uber took advantage of a taxicab driver strike the night Trump’s travel ban was first announced by suspending its surge pricing. As a result, its competitor, Lyft, surpassed Uber’s daily downloads for the first time ever. Then there were the political statement-making Super Bowl commercials, like the pro-immigrant Budweiser ad that lauded the company’s German founder and a commercial from hair product company It’s a 10, which told viewers they were in for “four years of awful hair.”
And don’t forget about the Nordstrom incident. Citing plummeting sales, the retailer pulled Ivanka Trump’s fashion line from its stores, leading some to go on a celebratory Nordstrom shopping spree and others to boycott the store.
In fact, 97 companies have officially come out as anti-Trump, according to ABC News. They include big names like Airbnb, Facebook, Apple, eBay, Netflix and Yelp, as well as more unexpected ones such as DocuSign, Dropbox, Shutterstock, Salesforce.com, Glassdoor and Chobani. (Yogurt can be political? Who knew!)
This all raises a question: Is it beneficial or even appropriate for a company to make a political statement? And do credit unions dare join the pack?
The intention behind a company’s anti-Trump stance is likely a mix of supporting an issue its leaders believe in and building brand loyalty. We have an especially unpopular president – a Gallup poll found that as of Feb. 12, 41% of Americans approve of Trump, compared to a 63% average approval rating during an elected U.S. president’s first quarter. There are plenty of people who dislike the president, and if they know the people behind their favorite brands feel the same way, they might just become customers for life.
The downside of getting political is that it’s still a huge risk to the company’s bottom line. They could be losing at least half of their customers, depending on who they are and what they believe. And they even run the risk of angering the prez himself – after Nordstrom dropped Ivanka’s line, Trump tweeted about how unfairly the retailer had treated his daughter.
As far I know, not one credit union has publicly come out against the president’s agenda, and that isn’t too surprising. Social issues are at the core of the anti-Trump movement, and for credit unions, these issues – immigration, abortion, gay marriage, etc. – are typically nonissues. They’re more concerned about like regulatory issues, like whether the CFPB will be eliminated or if Dodd-Frank will be repealed. And based on what we know so far, Trump is planning to scale back on regulations, which is good news for the industry. That doesn’t mean all credit union professionals have to love him, of course.
Credit union executives often keep quiet on political issues when CU Times reporters have reached out to them for comment. For example, for the Feb. 22 story, “Trump, Immigration and Credit Unions,” credit unions either declined to comment or didn’t respond to our reporter’s question on whether Trump’s immigration policies would hinder membership growth in Latino communities, with one marketing executive stating, “We’re simply not interested in responding or engaging in discussion with strong political overtones.” It was a fair response, given that most credit unions are not likely to benefit from making controversial public statements.
So, don’t expect to see a credit union marketing campaign featuring a Mexican family climbing over a wall to a better auto loan rate. But if a cooperative sees an upside to doing something that bold, I say go for it. Maybe you serve a small, niche field of membership that is known to be very liberal. In that case, a politically-charged ad may build loyalty.
For the majority of credit unions, however, a better approach might be to simply make a difference through their actions. One example of this is embracing diversity in your institution’s headquarters and branches. Ask yourself: Does your staff and board represent people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and races? Do you have mentorship programs in place to help all employees advance in their careers, regardless of their background? Are you promoting women and minorities to executive-level positions? Are you offering men and women equal pay?
By answering yes to all of those questions, you’ll know you’re doing your part to assure people who may be feeling vulnerable right now that they’re valued, appreciated and on equal footing with each one of their colleagues. And that’s something you should be doing no matter who the president is.
Natasha Chilingerian is managing editor for CU Times. She can be reached at email@example.com.