Although the banking industry supports various community outreach programs and provides loans to underserved markets, their commitment is mostly driven by legal requirements under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). That isn’t the case with credit unions and it never has been.
The credit union philosophy of People Helping People extends back to before the acronym “CRA” was ever known to the banking community. The credit union philosophy demands that we provide consistent and reliable support to the causes and issues that affect all aspects of life.
Making a difference in improving the communities we serve is as critical a component of our mission as providing our members with financial services.
Strong and vibrant communities lead to a betterment of our members’ lives, which is our ultimate goal. It is about applying sound business principles, while providing hope and assistance to others in order to improve their quality of life. If we view our mission as anything different, then we have lost the true cooperative spirit upon which the movement was formed.
Credit Union ONE, like most credit unions, has made a significant commitment to support the communities we serve. Our board of directors considers community service an integral part of our purpose and has made a commitment to our communities. Following the example of the World Council of Credit Unions, we begin our annual meeting with the verse of St. Francis of Assisi, a nondenominational verse which speaks to the very essence of the credit union movement.
We are involved in many outreach programs, financial literacy programs and consumer educational seminars. We make charitable donations and sponsor fund-raisers. Our credit union provides medical internships, scholarships to area high schools and also sponsors a high school robotics team. Engaging our employees to contribute their time and talent for a cause demonstrates a total commitment to the community and enhances the credit union brand and image.
As we face continued legal, legislative, and economic challenges to our ability to provide services to our members, it is critical that we collectively promote credit unions as not just financial institutions, but as integral parts of the communities we serve. In this world of commoditized financial products, this is truly what sets us apart from the rest of the banking world.
It is more crucial than ever that we continue our tradition of reaching out to all of our communities, including the underserved market — not because it is required by law or regulators, but because it is what makes us credit unions.
Every healthy, stable community needs access to capital and essential financial services. Entrepreneurs need loans to start up and expand businesses. Consumers need mortgages to make the transition from renters to home owners, and loans to purchase a reliable car or improve their properties. Low-income individuals need life-line financial services to provide the basic essentials of living — food, housing, clothing, utilities.
Everyone needs a safe, fair and reliable place to save, borrow or simply cash a check, making the neighborhood financial institution is as much a part of Main Street America as the grocery store, gas station and pharmacy.
Credit unions, more than their for-profit competitors, are acutely aware of this fact. After all, it was this awareness that prompted people to organize credit unions in the first place. Banks are focused first and foremost on profit, with service to customers a distant second and service to the community an even-more-distant third. At a credit union, service is not the means to an end, but the end itself. And most credit unions were launched to fill a void left open by banks that didn’t see enough profit-generating potential in small consumer loans and serving
In a very sense, then, the MCUL’s Community Reinvestment Initiative (CRI) is more a matter of focusing and underscoring something that credit unions have been doing all along, rather than starting something new. Credit unions have been investing in their communities, schools and local neighborhoods from the very beginning. And, unlike banks, America’s financial cooperatives didn’t need an act of Congress to exhibit social responsibility.
Our cover story on CRI begins on Page 13, and CRI Task Force Chairperson JoAnne Fillwock addresses the issue as well in this issue’s “Outlook” column on Page 7.
We at Contact Magazine want to hear from you. Letters must be postmarked no later than April 15, 2005, to be considered for publication in our next (2nd Quarter) issue. We reserve the right to edit all letters for brevity and clarity and require that all letters include a signature, address and telephone number. Names may be withheld from publication only by mutual agreement of the writer and publisher under extraordinary circumstances. All letters published solely represent the views of the authors and are not necessarily the views of Contact Magazine or the MCUL.
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