"Credit unions hold hands." This gem was offered as one of five points of differentiation during the first annual CU Housing RoundTable meeting last May. "Holding Hands" is another way of saying credit unions work together. And we do. Go to any credit union conference. Observe credit unions sharing best practices, swapping ideas that help serve members better. Industry veterans, those of us with ten or more years invested, know this is not a recent phenomenon – quite the contrary. Throughout our history, during chapter meetings, league annual meetings and at national association meetings – where credit unions gather, ideas are shared for the betterment of our industry. Our willingness to brainstorm with and to help one another may be our greatest strength and our most significant point of differentiation. Don't believe it? Attend a conference of some of our banking brethren (there’s as numerous as ours) you'll find they're not nearly as transparent.
If holding hands is collaboration, then hostile takeover attempts by one credit union of another is akin to throwing punches. Let's face it: CRA could hobble us, taxation would weaken us, the next version of diabolically anti-credit union legislation the bankers dream up might slow us down. Antagonism such as this brings the death of collaboration. Antagonism breeds adversity. Once we become adversarial we begin keeping our strategies to ourselves. And we're all the lesser for it.
Lest you think holding hands is overly sentimental, think again. The credit union-to-bank conversion mavens eat this stuff up. One credit union -- uninvited and unwelcome – soliciting another's members after their credit union said no to a merger? How much happier could this story possibly make them? Why are they jumping for joy? The answer is at least two-fold. First, they understand one of our strengths is our ability to rally, especially around issues that are deleterious to our industry. Why have we been successful fighting their taxation attacks for decades? Beyond the obvious reason - - we're cooperatives - - the secondary answer is we speak with one, united voice. Once divided, we become easier to conquer. The credit union-to-bank conversion process that we've made collectively more difficult also becomes easier. That makes them smile.
The other reason conversion vultures circle the hostile takeover territory is this: bankers realize when credit unions work together they are much harder to compete with. Over the past decade, we've reduced the cost of homeownership. Doubt it? Sub-prime lending, while still too expensive, was much worse ten and fifteen years ago. We also deliver a better real estate experience than bankers, mortgage bankers, and mortgage brokers. Many a credit union will close a home loan much more quickly than our competition. Our costs are lower - - not because we're not taxed, but because we're more efficient - - our service level is higher, our advice is better. How many credit union members, for instance, trapped members into those highly toxic hybrid mortgages so much in the news of late? Could we have made these improvements on our own, one credit union at a time? Not likely. That's what the bankers are counting on. This time we're playing right into their hands.
Holding hands isn't sentimental, it's good credit union business. And, while holding hands, we can't throw punches.