By Mark Shobe, President/CEO,
DFCU Financial (MW);
and Roger Quitter, President/CEO,
Christian Financial CU (ME)
No one who reads a newspaper, listens to the radio, watches TV — or just earns a living in Michigan — needs to be told that these are difficult times for our state. While the rest of the country has enjoyed a period of general prosperity in the last several years, Michigan is enduring an economic sea change, a painful restructuring after generations of dependency on manufacturing and the domestic auto industry.
Michigan credit unions are showing that they want to contribute what they can to a solution, rather than be part of the problem.
There’s no better example of the commitment of credit unions to their members and to Michigan than the Career Transition Program (CTP), which provides credit union members who have lost their jobs with access to a 10-year unsecured loan for career retraining and education at significant discounts over an ordinary unsecured loan or even the Stafford Loan rates available on typical student loans.
The CTP was officially launched last October, and to date some 40 Michigan credit unions — including DFCU Financial (MW) and Christian Financial CU (ME) — have committed roughly $40 million to the program.
Michigan credit unions should be proud of the fact that, even in a difficult economy, they are generally well capitalized and able to meet the need for this type of educational assistance. In addition, many credit unions’ fields of membership and history link them to the manufacturing sector — uniquely positioning them to assist members adversely affected by the state’s loss of these types of jobs.
It’s a happy state of affairs when a business decision makes sense from both an idealistic and a practical standpoint — as is the case with the CTP. On the one hand, the program is providing an excellent example of the credit union ideals and the credit union philosophy in action, concisely stated in such familiar credos as “People Helping People” and “Not for Profit, Not for Charity, but for Service.”
On the other hand, from a hard-numbers perspective, the CTP is simply good business. True, there is a cost involved in providing what are in effect subsidized loans at below current market rates. However, in investing in our members, we are in effect investing in ourselves. Credit unions do not operate in a vacuum. We have a major stake in Michigan’s economy and its ability to produce secure, well-paying jobs for our members, both today and in the future.
In addition, the CTP has generated much good will and positive media exposure for Michigan credit unions. The press conference last October at DFCU Financial — appropriately held in the shadow of Ford Motor Company world headquarters — drew the participation of Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm; OFIR Commissioner Linda Watters; and Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth (DLEG) Director Robert Swanson, who noted that the DLEG was chipping in with an additional $1.5 million to assist CTP participants with the cost of textbooks and $200,000 for career counseling and placement.
The Governor cited the CTP as an example of an effective partnership between state government and the private sector and praised Michigan credit unions for taking a leader-ship role in helping Michigan’s economy. Noting at the press conference that she was herself a credit union member, she emphasized the need to ensure that workers impacted by Michigan’s transitioning economy are able to update their education and enhance their job skills. Said the Governor: “This program will help make that education and training a reality for people who need it, helping them keep food on the table and dignity for their families.”
Numerous newspaper articles and media reports have also focused on the CTP, all of which have under-scored credit union uniqueness and further strengthened a pro-credit union perception among Michigan consumers. The program has been featured in major state newspapers such as the Macomb Daily, Battle Creek Enquirer, Lansing State Journal, Kalamazoo Gazette and Marshall Chronicle. A broadcast of the Rick Bloom Show on Detroit’s WDTK-AM (1400) and an extensive segment on WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) in Detroit also focused on the CTP.
It isn’t often that credit unions have this kind of high-profile opportunity to demonstrate to their members, lawmakers, the media and Michigan consumers how credit unions stand apart from the other financial institutions. We encourage more credit unions to consider participating in the CTP.