If there ever was a time when credit unions needed to stand together and show unity, it is now.
These are particularly challenging times — politically, socially, demographically and technologically. A lot of changes are ahead, and the only certainty about our future is uncertainty. If even multi-national, mega-banks are wary about what’s over the horizon, how wise would a credit union be to choose to go it alone?
Spirited, friendly competition among credit unions is as old as the movement. But when I hear or read about credit unions fighting and competing in an unfriendly manner, I cringe. Over the years, it has been our cohesiveness, our common vision and our willing-ness to work together which has made us strong and successful. Perhaps our motto should not only be “People Helping People” but “Credit Unions Helping Credit Unions.”
No other industry has provided a better example of unity and cooperation than credit unions. Our willingness to lend a hand and help one another compete and survive in today’s financial environment is what helps make credit unions unique.
My whole credit union career has been in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Most everyone who has been fortunate enough to be a part of our chapter will agree that credit unions here truly stand out when it comes to cooperation and helping one another.
Frankly, it’s often difficult for many of us up here to understand the direction and competitiveness some credit “below the bridge” seem to be demonstrating. It’s not healthy, and it’s not likely to make for a better or more secure future for credit unions and their members.
In order to stay strong and successful, I believe we need strong and successful state and national trade associations effectively supported by Michigan credit unions. The MCUL is an integral part of the unity credit unions need, and our League has worked hard over the years to support the needs and promote the interests of both small and large credit unions.
Maybe I’m unrealistic, but I still feel there is a niche in today’s marketplace for small credit unions. And, unless we practice the unity we preach and support these smaller credit unions, not only will we continue to lose numbers, we may risk a division among ourselves that would make us easy prey for the banks and other competitors.
Big credit unions certainly have their place, but so do small credit unions. And let’s not forget that all credit unions started out small — in shops, churches, basements and private homes. These are our roots and our history, and they form the foundation of our uniqueness.
Surviving in today's financial world is no easy task. Dealing with sophisticated competitors, wrestling with new laws and regulations, targeted by never-ending attacks by bankers and their lobbyists — today’s credit unions have their hands full, and it’s no wonder that many smaller credit unions are ready to throw up those hands in despair. Even the largest credit unions are finding it difficult and frustrating to stay on top in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.
So — how can we ensure our collective survival? If even the largest credit unions are constantly challenged by today’s environment, how smart would it be for each individual credit union to strike out on its own and hope for the best?
Not smart at all is the obvious answer. Unity is the key to our survival — combining our strength and resources through participation in the MCUL, CUNA and the Credit Union System, and reaching out to credit unions in need.
Over the last few years, Soo Co-op CU has chosen Columbus Day as an ideal opportunity to set aside a day of learning for our staff. We are already talking about having two smaller credit unions join us next year so we can hire a keynote speaker and share the costs based on asset size. This is a win-win situation — and just one small example of how we all benefit from unity and cooperation.
Individual success is, of course, essential. But the collective success of the credit union movement is vital, too. Do people today typically conduct all their business at one financial institution? The answer is no. But, given the choice, would you rather see your member using another credit union or going down the street to a bank?
I hope and trust that every credit union professional, volunteer and staff member will choose the former rather than the latter, automatically and emphatically. And as long as that’s the case — as long as we look at the “big picture” and are willing to work together for the common good — the future of credit unions will bright and full of promise.