I was in Connecticut last week to join friends at Members Credit Union and Nutmeg State Financial Credit Union in celebrating their recent National Juntos Avanzamos (Together We Advance) Award (more on that in a minute). I couldn’t help but smile when I noticed via a lobby directory that Members Credit Union shares a building with the famous Chicken Soup for the Soul authors. I immediately thought about how credit union work could be considered food for the soul.
For those who don’t know, Chicken Soup for the Soul is a publishing company predominately known for its Chicken Soup for the Soul series of books. The first book, like most subsequent titles in the series, consists of inspirational true stories about ordinary people’s lives. The book became a major bestseller in 1993, and remains something of a social phenomenon.
Credit unions rule
When it comes to finding inspirational true stories about companies committed to helping the financial lives of ordinary people, credit unions rule! I hear inspirational stories of how credit unions find ways to serve people who are struggling, overlooked, and under-appreciated almost every single day.
Trust me when I say that the happiest people in all of credit union land are those who are engaged in helping people – especially people who really need their help. It’s this service and outreach that, like chicken soup, nourishes the soul. It inspires the busiest of people to double down and do more, and inspires those around them to jump in, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. I believe that pursuing purpose is more rewarding than pursuing profit, and I know that I’m not alone.
Consider the world we live in today, and how credit unions are clearly different and better:
At a time when Wells Fargo hoped the $142-million settlement of a class-action lawsuit over its agents creating up to 2.1 million unwanted checking, savings, and credit-card accounts between 2011 and 2015 would end the iconic company’s headaches, a new report emerged of a similar scandal involving auto loans and insurance. At the time, I was engaged in conversations with the first-year class at the CUNA Management School specifically focused on credit-union best practices for serving underserved markets’ financial needs that remain unmet by most banks and targeted by tens of thousands of predatory lenders. These credit union leaders identified creative and impactful ways to respond to the underserved case studies I presented. I left that group inspired by their credit union spirit!
At a time when income inequality is growing rapidly and wages have been stagnating, creating qualify-of-life challenges for millions of people in the United States and billions of people abroad, credit unions have significantly increased their efforts to reach out to and serve the underserved and overlooked. In the United States, the number of Low Income Designated credit unions has exceeded 2,300. These special credit unions are committed to serving low-income consumers and their families. In my 30-year career, I don’t believe awareness of and commitment to lower-income consumers has ever been higher. Thanks to the NCUA, National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, CUNA, National Credit Union Foundation, CDFI Fund, Leagues, and other trade associations, awareness and advocacy have never been higher. Today, more credit unions are engaging each other and their communities to identify educational and product opportunities to help lower-income consumers make better decisions, build financial assets and better credit – all focused on creating a better quality of life for the person, family, and community. When it comes to people helping lower-income people financially, credit unions stand alone. I just completed a full-day Community Development Workshop sponsored by the Wisconsin Credit Union League and the Wisconsin Credit Union Foundation. It was cool: the workshop was at full capacity, with credit union leaders driving across the state to be part of the event. The audience included small, large, urban, and rural credit unions, each eager to find new ways to seek out and serve lower-income and underserved markets. The stories I heard from credit unions in attendance were certainly “soup for the soul.”
At a time when talking heads are arguing for a 700-mile-long, 30-foot wall to keep people away (from a better quality of life for themselves and their families), credit unions across the country are actively engaged in building bridges to warmly welcome Latino immigrants with affordable financial services, regardless of citizenship status. These credit unions are making meaningful investments in providing this group of overlooked consumers with access to low-cost accounts, credit-building, and affordable access to transportation, housing, and even small businesses. Today, more than 70 credit unions have received the national Juntos Avanzamos designation, recognized for having the purpose, people, and products needed to successfully serve this market. How can one adequately measure the quality-of-life impact that accompanies citizenship and financial inclusion? It’s high, and very desirable.
Why it matters
I don’t know about you, but I desire chicken soup most when I’m a little under the weather. Like the chicken soup analogy, credit unions work best when they serve those who need them the most. It’s in our DNA, and for more than 100 years, credit unions have been helping those who need us the most: the overlooked and underserved.
At a time when the world seems to be heading down a path of greed, fraud, and deeper inequalities between the haves and the have-nots, credit unions can gain strides by seeking out and serving those who need us the most. When credit unions do this, they are relevant, and serving as the “soup” for struggling souls.