How Well Do You Tell The Credit Union Story?

The movement’s future requires daily attention to sharing its present impact.

Countering bankers attacks on credit unions in Congress and state capitols will require making the movements case on multiple points. Perhaps none is as important as making clear that credit unions are about mission as much as money.

The cooperative model is logically designed to meet the financial needs of everyday people. Thats how the movement began, and thats still where it holds power.

But structure is one thing. Emotions are another.


Credit unions must talk about the impact they have on members and communities. Thats how the movement wins hearts and minds. The tax exemption, and the whole argument that credit unions should be regulated differently than for-profit banks, might depend on this effort.

We can begin with recent history. During the Great Recession, banks pulled back from a lot of consumer lending. Credit unions kept going. The result has been a decade of record member growth, loan origination, and market share.

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Auto dealers, hardly a sentimental lot, saw the value in credit unions during those though times and now indirect lending is a major contributor to credit union coffers nationwide.

Student lending is another example. When some of the biggest banks found they couldnt sell those loans on Wall Street, they quit making them. Credit unions didnt. Thats because its a relationship on their balance sheet, not a security to sell to the highest bidder.

Here at Callahan, we see that philosophy at work in every planning session we have with clients. Discussions always begin with how the credit union can do more for its members, not its ROA. Delivering value to the former will take care of the latter.

Check out Callahans annual Credit Union Impact Report on and then watch the webinar for credit union examples.

This is all part of the credit union story. How well is your credit union telling that story? Lots of credit unions create impact reports and devote valuable online real estate to how theyre helping build and rebuild communities one mortgage and used car loan at a time. Supporting causes and charities also is second nature.

Need inspiration? Look at the impact report page on the website of Hope Credit Union ($278.7M, Jackson, MS). Advantis Credit Union ($1.3B, Portland, OR) also details its community impact on its website. BECU’s ($17.9B, Tukwila, WA) community impact webpage spells it right out at the top: Putting People First.

SchoolsFirst FCU ($14.1B, Santa Ana, CA) has an Education Foundation that provides grants for programs that inspire students to excel in core subjects. And the Credit Union Association of the Dakotas maintains a website devoted solely to sharing the positive impact that credit unions have on people and their communities.

You need to share what you do, too. Its not boasting. Its encouraging your own organization, and others, to do more. That might be the most powerful antidote to the poison others spread about the movement. And it will help credit unions compete.

As financial services become more commoditized, credit unions need to work harder to distinguish themselves, both in the marketplace and in the political arena. Nationwide.

The annual effort to tax credit unions in Congress failed, but the attack on the idea of credit union immunity from taxation is hardly existential in the heartland. The Iowa Senate has passed a tax bill that includes a franchise levy on credit unions in a state that already taxes credit unions more than most.

And the debate in the Hawkeye State has taken on a new, uncomfortable wrinkle. University of Iowa Community Credit Union ($4.7B, North Liberty, IA), a standout performer by any movement measure, is a frequent target of banker attacks. And now one of the universitys regents says the very name is a problem. Check out this newspaper article titled Regents: Credit Unions Name Could Risk University of Iowas Reputation.

Irony aside (the regent uses Wells Fargos account opening scandals as an example), how can credit unions counter something like that? By using social media, traditional media, word of mouth, and whatever else it takes to show the good they do. Loans to homeowners, support for good causes, Main Street answers to Wall Street problems.

In Iowa, the movement held a rally in Des Moines featuring state and national leaders. An estimated 700 backers attended, and the rally drew local media attention. Thats good, free PR, but its a single moment in time. Making the message stick requires continuous effort.

Are you using whatever channels work to show the people helping people ethos that your credit union practices daily? If not, when will you?

March 26, 2018

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