Time and time again in my 23-year credit union career, I’ve been faced with this from my friends, neighbors and community members: “Yeah, there is a credit union in my community. I don’t really know what they do. Don’t you have to join or something?”
As a credit union system, we are not the best at creating awareness about who we are and what we do. We must change that and now is the time.
A 2012 survey of 25,000 Americans conducted by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation noted 19% spend more than they earn; 26% have unpaid medical debt; 56% said have no rainy day fund – money to cover living expenses for three months; and 59% haven’t figured out what they need to save for retirement.
These are our colleagues, our employees, our neighbors, our family, our friends. And we, the credit union community, have a mission to help them. To do so, we need to create awareness that credit unions are an option – the best option.
During the most recent CUNA GAC, I shared three tips on how credit unions can create awareness and all are deeply connected to financial capability and well-being:
- Credit unions should strive to become part of the strategic architecture of their community’s financial literacy efforts. One way of doing this is for credit unions to find what may seem like unlikely partners in their community (e.g., nonprofits, health care providers, farmer’s markets, and certainly, other cooperatives).
- Credit unions should be strategic in their philanthropic efforts. In other words, leverage what you do best — consumer finance — into philanthropy that focuses on strengthening the financial well-being of everyone in your community.
- Credit unions should lead efforts to improve their community’s financial well-being (e.g., hold a reality fair for high school students).
Creating awareness is powerful and plays a large role in realizing the vision that credit unions and CUNA are working towards with Unite for Good. In fact, creating awareness actually complements other action steps. For example, by creating awareness, you are also working to remove barriers by showing what credit unions could do if barriers were removed. You are also fostering service excellence by setting a standard for other credit unions to meet – or even exceed. All of these actions, in the end, help demonstrate to Americans that credit unions are the best option.