CU Philosophy’s Survival Depends On Educating The Rich As Well As The Poor

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Remember the good old days when visionary people got together and started the credit union movement? Well, I don’t either. After all, the first “credit unions” were established in Germany in the 1850s (I’m old, but not that old). Their mission, lo’ those many years ago, was to help common folk who weren’t being served by the banks of the time, and guess what? it still is!

I want to believe that the “people-helping-people” philosophy that formed the bedrock of the credit union movement hasn’t changed. But as I prepare to retire after more than twenty years in the business, I’m worried. I think we’re failing in our duty to convince our upscale members that they have a moral responsibility to help those who are trying their best to climb the economic ladder, and this has ramifications for the future of the credit union movement.

There are two kinds of people who belong in a credit union: those who need help and those who want to help. It seems, however, that many of the latter have morphed into a “what’s-in-it-for me?’ class. Here’s an example of what we’re up against: I recently fielded a phone call from a member who’d heard about our new Advantage Checking Account that pays a very high dividend rate in return for account holders using various other credit union services. He was calling on behalf of his son who had $25,000 to invest. He told me that his son didn’t want the checking account, and yet he demanded that we pay his son the premium rate associated with the account on his $25,000. Perhaps this father and son don’t belong in a credit union.

If we don’t provide members such as these with the market’s best rates at all times they take all or part of their business elsewhere. If this were an isolated case, I wouldn’t be concerned, but we’ve even seen this thought process at work in credit union employees and board members.

So what’s the answer? Education? We need to tell our members over and over and over again what we’re here for. We need to make it plain to our affluent members that if they want to be part of the solution not part of the problem, they’ll have to bring us all their business instead of just cherry picking services. This won’t be a hardship. They’ll be getting consistently competitive rates, they’ll be treated like member-owners, and they’ll be helping us provide fairly priced financial services to those who need them most. This is what we call people helping people... it’s the credit union way.

Dean Nelson, CEO

City-County FCU, Minneapolis


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