by: Joe Day, Director of Publishing Operations, CUNA
“Members Matter Most” – it’s time to let out the secret. Working for cooperatively owned financial institutions, we all know that every action we take at our credit unions is in the direct interest of our members. This member-focused attitude is also what sets us apart from other financial institutions. On October 18, the credit union movement will celebrate International Credit Union Day® (ICU Day) and will have the chance to share our message with the world.
“Members are the focal point this year, just as they are every single day in credit unions,” said Joanne Sepich, CUNA’s ICU Day coordinator. “While credit union staff always put members first, ICU Day is an opportunity to remind members that credit unions are different by design—members are what make credit unions unique and set them apart as for-people, not-for-profit, cooperatively owned financial institutions.”
The first International Credit Union Day was established by the Credit Union League of Massachusetts in 1927. Originally “Credit Union Day” (CU Day), was established on January 17 in honor of the great “Apostle of Thrift,” Benjamin Franklin. Unfortunately, at the time when CU Day was established, the credit union movement in North America was just getting started, and it was hard to celebrate a movement most people had never heard of. Inevitably, CU Day faded away.
Twenty-one years later, in 1948, the centennial of the first credit union arrived. By then, about five million people belonged to 12,000 credit unions in the United States and Canada. Credit Union National Association (CUNA) decided that it was time to give CU Day new lifethis time with a national celebration set aside on the third Thursday of October. We have been celebrating ever since.
Today, credit unions and associations in every part of the world celebrate with open houses, contests, picnics, fairs, festivals and parades. Others hold athletic competitions and essay or art contests for young members. Public gatherings with visiting dignitaries have effectively attracted media attention and public involvement, as have educational and public service events.
Since ICU Day generates a lot of positive attention every year, it seems only logical that our movement will continue to grow; the reality remains an uphill challenge. Still, many members of the general public do not know what a credit union is, where their nearest credit union is located, or the advantages credit unions offer over other financial institutions.
According to CUNA’s Credit Union Environmental Scan (E-Scan) :
- About 37% of all nonmembers are “not at all familiar” with credit unions.
- 69% of consumers ages 18-24 claim to be “not at all familiar” with credit unions.
- About 18% of all Americans are either unbanked or underbanked.
These trends are indeed troubling, but they are not irreversible. To help inform potential members of the financial advantages of joining a credit union and direct them to credit unions where they are eligible to join, CUNA and the leagues developed aSmarterChoice.org. This website initiative has many features designed to help consumers make the “smarter choice” including information that details the significant differences between banks and credit unions, a credit union locator to find the nearest credit union they are eligible to join, a live feed of the most important credit union news stories and testimonials from real members on their experience with credit unions.
Together with International Credit Union Day and aSmarterChoice.org, we can work toward bringing to light the best kept secret in the financial services industry. As we celebrate ICU Day in October, take a moment to reflect upon not only the positive difference credit unions make around the world, but also the large number of people missing out on the party. Remember, it is never too late to start writing invitations.
Joe Day, Director of Business Development at Credit Union National Association. With its network of affiliated state credit union leagues, CUNA serves 90 percent of America’s 7,400 state and federally chartered credit unions, which are owned by more than 95 million consumer members. Credit unions are not-for-profit cooperatives providing affordable financial services to people from all walks of life. For more information about CUNA, visit www.cuna.org or the CUNAverse blog and follow @CUNAverse on Twitter. For more information about credit unions, visit www.aSmarterChoice.org and follow @asmarterchoice on Twitter.