Credit Unions Uniting for Good

Last month at the GAC, President/CEO Bill Cheney unveiled a new strategic vision: “Unite for Good.”

Uniting for good is the right thing to do, and this is the best time to do it. If you’ve been around for a long time like me, you’ve seen many campaigns come and go. We remember some of them, but far too many are easily forgotten. So many campaigns come and go, it’s easy to look at new campaigns with skepticism, thinking “this too shall pass” – but not this time.

“Unite for Good” is spot on, and I believe it represents the best opportunity to leverage our collective brand for advocacy, differentiation and growth. If we do this right, we have the opportunity to demonstrate in a very big way that the credit union brand is clearly different and better.

Something like this has worked before

Leading up to the Great Depression, the emerging credit union movement clearly outlined the purpose (mission) of credit unions: to promote thrift and provide affordable access to credit. The credit union mission was timely and congruent with consumers’ lack of affordable access to credit. Credit unions had what consumers needed. Credit unions understood why they existed, and consumers understood the importance of credit unions.

The mission was very successful. It created a hyper-focus that lead to the rapid expansion of credit unions. The mission also attracted and inspired movement evangelists such as Roy Bergengren, Dora Maxwell and Louise Herring. These pioneers were driven by the belief that credit unions make a significant difference in improving the quality of life for millions of consumers. The mission became a movement.

This is not just “feel good” stuff; the proof is in the numbers. Consider that between 1929 and 1932, the number of credit unions increased from 1,100 to 1,700 – that’s 600 new credit unions chartered during the depth of the Great Depression. Growth momentum continued for many years after the depression, finally peaking at 29,761 credit unions in 1969.

Uniting for good works for all of us

Whether we’re big, small, urban, rural, and state- or federally chartered, we all share the common bond of member service and we have incredible stories to tell. Frankly, we haven’t done that great of a job getting the word out. “Unite for Good” gives us a comfortable venue for sharing and leveraging those stories.

I think “Unite for Good” is more than just an opportunity for credit unions to share great stories and improve advocacy – it also presents a reflection point for those of us who struggle to differentiate and compete in a very commoditized and competitive market. “Unite for Good” gives us an opportunity to stretch, reaching for more and doing more. Consumers and communities are still reeling from the Great Recession, and now many face sequestration. Consumers and communities need credit unions now more than ever. This is a great time to look at what we’re doing and find ways to stretch for a little bit more. Working together, the opportunity to leverage good has never been better.

Focus on Impact

Past messages have equated credit union value with lower loan rates and account fees. That’s great, but it hasn’t achieved the results we need in advocacy or gaining measurable market share. I believe our message is about more than positive service surveys, or reports that credit union membership saves the average family several hundred dollars or more a year. The path to our vision will require a greater focus on impact.

Seek out service opportunities with the greatest potential impact, activities that improve the quality of life for consumers and communities. Here are a few high-impact activities that are likely to clearly stand out and get attention:

  • Create jobs through microenterprise small business development;
  • Improve credit and financial skills for lower- to moderate-income consumers;
  • Increase access to affordable credit that eliminates predatory financial products;
  • Build financial assets and resources for people of modest means.

Activities like these are closely aligned with our roots and represent some of the greatest need in so many of our communities. Seek out and leverage community resources and partnerships. There is no need to do this alone. Identify partnerships that share your common values, and together make a big impact.

Now is the time to be bold and clearly stand out. Credit union pioneer Roy F. Bergengren summed up our opportunity best when he said, “The real job of a credit union is to prove, in modest measure, the practicality of the brotherhood of man.”

Let’s unite for good!