A Co-op Moment for Credit Unions
Here are four simple propositions for you to consider:
As a result of the pandemic, the nation is in the throes of an economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.
The Great Depression demonstrated the unique power of cooperatives -- businesses owned and democratically controlled by their users -- to bring economic security to millions of people.
Credit unions are to banks as food co-ops are to supermarket chains or electric cooperatives are to big investor-owned utilities -- the difference being that in each instance the former lacks wealth-extracting shareholders and, therefore, are in a position to do good in a time of economic crisis.
The credit union movement in the U.S. began in New Hampshire, where it thrives to this day; thus, the credit unions in the Granite State, of which there are at least 15, have a special responsibility during this time of economic crisis to step forward and offer help to members are suffering.
I happen to be a member of no fewer than five credit unions, three in New Hampshire and two in Vermont. Years ago, I financed my first car via the Associated Press Employees' Credit Union. In my experience, all too often it is impossible to tell the difference between a credit union and an investor-owned bank. I'm not suggesting that credit union managers or credit union directors are striving to act like bankers but I am suggesting they've been conditioned to avoid regulatory hassles by avoiding anything innovative. Democracy, as shown by contested board of directors elections, occur rarely if ever.
All of this is why I am excited that the nonprofit organization We Own It has rolled out this grassroots campaign to get credit unions across the country to offer meaningful help their members who are facing eviction or other forms of pandemic-driven economic disaster. Full disclosure: I currently serve as chair of the We Own It board of trustees.
At four of the five credit unions to which I belong, I've had more than a little contact with the key decisonmakers. (I'm the sort of credit union member who shows up at annual meetings and asks to be appointed to committees or even the board.) I'm especially impressed by the two CUs that have historically occupied the role of serving state employees -- the New Hampshire Federal Credit Union and the Vermont State Employees Credit Union. It's hardly a coincidence that of my five CUs, these are the two with the most 'cooperative spirit.' May that spirit flourish and grow in these troubling times -- truly a cooperative moment!