Digital communities – The future of FOM

Today, there are three types of federal credit union field of membership (FOM) charters: Single common bond with one occupational or associational group, multiple common bond, or community. Every credit union must adhere to these three requirements. The specific requirements of each are:

  • Occupational – members work for the same employer or in the same line of work
  • Associational – members belong to a particular church, professional, civic, or fraternal group or labor union
  • Community – members live, work, worship or attend school in the same geographic area

Our world is constantly changing and modernized definitions are sorely needed in each of these areas. The gig economy has introduced new ways in which to work which no longer require a single employer or even a common place for employees to go to work. Associational bonds, in a digital world, can encompass the whole globe and communities can live and thrive without sharing the same geographical space. Millions of people who share a common bond are missing out of the opportunity to be part of a financial cooperative that specializes in their unique needs because the FOM rules are so … analog. Online communities have been gaining ground for decades (think about early chat rooms) and credit unions are just not speaking to them.

Let’s take a look at what a digital community actually is, and I think you will find some pretty interesting correlations with the aforementioned requirements.

  • Digital communities embody a group of people who interact with one another via digital channels such as websites, social media, forums or messaging apps.
  • These communities can be centered around common interests, hobbies, professionals, geographic locations or identities.
  • Members (key word) of a digital community facilitate collaboration and support to other members in the form of sharing knowledge, providing advice or working together on a project or initiative.
  • Participation in digital community building events fosters a sense of belonging (AMAs, virtual meetups, or contests)

Here are some questions we all should be asking: Does the common bond requirement need to be modernized? (yes) Is the ‘spirit’ of the common bond requirement readily applicable to the ways people engage with each other today? (yes) Will modernizing the common bond rules make the banks mad? (yes) Being able to serve a broader membership can still mean serving a niche group. It’s just that the niche group in question no longer need be geographically connected. Today’s consumer certainly expects digital accessibility but they also expect personalized service. Digital communities are a perfect place for credit unions to provide that.

Another thing digital communities provide is a feedback loop. The people in these communities interact with each other in real time. At any time of day, a community member can post an idea, a work of art, a picture, an article or a video and get immediate feedback from the group. Yes, sometimes the feedback is harsh, but ultimately the community aims to support each other, not tear each other down. What if your credit union incorporated digital community mechanisms like the ones above? Stay tuned for part 2 … What really is ‘digital engagement’?

Becky Reed

Becky Reed

Becky Reed is a credit union industry veteran and thought leader with more than two decades of experience in credit unions and CUSOs. Renowned for her unique perspective as a ... Web: Details