TCUL President Joins Panel in Extolling CU Philosophy as a Business Advantage

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Credit unions should promote their cooperative principles as a competitive advantage, according to four people.

"Promoting only our credit unions' rates and services is not going to sell us in the long run," observed Mary Cunningham, president/CEO of USA Federal Credit Union in San Diego and chairman of the National Credit Union Foundation, who was part of a panel during the recent CUNA Future Forum. "Selling credit unions' uniqueness - the difference of member ownership-is what really sells us, and it sells us every time. Once people see the dollar value of belonging to a cooperative, the light bulb goes on."

As part of a presentation on "Credit Union Philosophy is Good Business: Selling the 'Members as Owners' Difference," CUNA Mutual Senior Vice President Larry Blanchard outlined all seven cooperative principles: Voluntary Membership; Democratic Control; Members' Economic Participation; Autonomy & Independence; Education & Information; Cooperation among Cooperatives, and Concern for Community

"The more we can tie credit unions to cooperatives, the stronger our movement will be," suggested Texas Credit Union League President Dick Ensweiler.

For example, Ensweiler reported how some credit unions put signs in their parking lots declaring that all parking spaces are "Reserved for Member/Owners." He noted that at first, many members storm into the credit union upset that they had to park across the street-but then they are surprised and delighted to learn that they are the member/owners of the credit union.

"What a great way to introduce members to cooperative ownership," said Ensweiller.

"Each credit union board member should take ownership of one of the seven cooperative principles," asserted Curtis Collins, board member of JSC FCU in Houston and chairman of the Texas CU Foundation. After the session, audience members lined up to receive wallet-sized cards to help their board and staff members remember the principles.

Panelists noted that NCUF's Development Education (DE) program is one way to train board members and staff about the cooperative principles, credit union philosophy, and how to apply them in today's world.

"If you train people and they leave the credit union, that's horrible," acknowledged Collins. "But what's worse is if you don't train them and they stay!"

"I do have concerns about the executive staff we're hiring and the volunteers we're bringing in if they don't have training in the cooperative credit union philosophy," remarked Cunningham. "If all we're selling is rates and services, credit unions will become commoditized."

As NCUF chairman, Cunningham explained how the foundation is working to make the Development Educator program accessible to more CUs. NCUF is planning to add a second six-day DE Training class starting in 2007, as well as a series of one-or-two-day sessions hosted by leagues and other organizations. Anyone who shares a passion for credit unions' survival is invited to join the DE waiting list.

"We need to mainstream the DE program," Ensweiler concluded. "This can be credit unions' blue ocean strategy. DE training can help credit unions differentiate themselves."

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