The 2020 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) is in the books and for me, it was by far the best in recent memory. The presenters are always high caliber. The National Credit Union Foundation’s Herb Wegner Awards are inspiring and a reminder of what makes credit unions different, and this year didn’t disappoint.

Upon further reflection, several things make the GAC a standout experience for me personally. First, seeing the continued strong emphasis on credit union values and diverse inclusion initiatives. This year, attendance at the CDFI Roundtable, Juntos Avanzamos, NLCUP, AACUC and GWLN events were at capacity and the energy has never felt stronger! The topics of inclusion, empowerment, and equity in how we approach serving our diverse communities were front and center, and a real differentiator in the overall experience. It’s these things that make credit unions different and better.

CUNA’s national “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union” initiative is timely and exciting. As we support this strategy directly or indirectly as collective credit unions and system partners, let’s first remember to make sure our own eyes are open to what’s at stake.

What do you see?

On Feb. 19, 2020, a remarkable event occurred among U.S. financial cooperatives (that many of us missed) and that could be leveraged to promote the credit union brand and help consumers open their eyes to credit unions: former President Bill Clinton visited Cooperativa La Sagrada Familia (a credit union) in rural Corozal, Puerto Rico.

President Clinton, representing the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery recognized the collective efforts of credit unions to support marginalized communities. Credit unions such as Sagrada Familia, are on the ground and in the trenches, working to rebuild communities after Hurricane María through access to resources that strengthen and amplify their community development work. Read more here.

Many organizations, including Inclusiv, NCUF’s CUAid, CUNA Mutual Group, WOCCU, the CDFI Treasury, the NYCUA, other leagues, and many mainland credit union partners have been working with the credit union leaders in Puerto Rico to help them expand capacity to increase financial inclusion and outreach efforts within their underserved communities. An enormous amount of good is coming out of these collaborations and credit union heroes are taking cooperative leadership to new heights. The effort expended on Puerto Rican credit unions was great enough to earn a visit from a former U.S. president. President Clinton’s sole purpose was to formally recognize the work of local credit union leaders, and the broader efforts contributed by credit union leaders outside of Puerto Rico.

If I had the power to present a national award to my very own credit union hero of the year, it would go to Pablo DeFilippi (CUDE), SVP at Inclusiv. Like anything Pablo commits to, he throws all of his passion and effort into working for underserved communities. His efforts make a huge difference. To me, Pablo DeFilippi is the Roy Bergengren or Louise Herring of our day. His work with Juntos Avanzamos and Puerto Rican credit unions are recent examples. If you’re looking to learn from an inspiring credit union leader, a leader that gets his hands dirty in the work of inclusion, follow Pablo.

Other than the press release by Inclusiv, I haven’t seen this incredible story anywhere else. I could be wrong, but I think if a former U.S. President would have visited a credit union on the mainland, it would have been front-page news and top of mind for most of us.

And one more opportunity to open our eyes

As we collectively find powerful stories to help open consumers’ eyes to credit unions, let’s be sure to remember ALL our credit unions. Yes, this means especially our small credit unions. If you follow me, you know this is an area I am extremely passionate about. I believe too many credit union leaders are overlooking or altogether dismissing small credit unions. This creates tension between large and small credit unions and it’s one way bankers attack, seeking to drive a wedge between us. We need to remember, that in the big, competitive financial services space, all but a handful of credit unions are considered smaller players. Collectively, we only have 7 percent of the total market. If you’re dissin’ small credit unions, please stop.

Big credit unions need small credit unions and vice versa. Let’s remember this: the credit union movement should be inclusive of ALL credit unions, regardless of asset size. The word “ally” is an oft-repeated and important word when discussing inclusion. A great example of being an ally is seen with the tiny $11.6 -million Greater Kinston Credit Union and its partnership, with the $43-billion State Employees Credit Union. SECU provides leadership and various levels of support to Greater Kinston to assist them in increasing financial inclusion in a severely marginalized community. Working together, they are changing people’s lives and improving the community. There are opportunities like this throughout credit union land. I hope we can do more.

Why it matters

We are better together.

We serve in a historic, social movement. An inclusive place where people are more important than profit, members’ stories are as important as their credit scores, character is more important than status, and service means more than a click. Lives materially change when we are at our inclusive best.

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