Any time society mobilizes to advocate for positive change, people often ask, “What can I do? I’m just one person.” Credit union leaders are in an enviable position, however. Although each individual who works in the industry is, in fact, “just one person,” the movement has a way of transforming the voice of one into the power of many.
Right now, we are experiencing a cultural shift – a needed reprioritization of diversity, equity and inclusion values. While there are many avenues credit unions can take to advance their own DEI impact, one important area is financial inclusion.
The issue is far too complex and important to be called low hanging fruit. However, for credit unions that exist to ensure everyone has fair, dignified and affordable access to mainstream financial services, financial inclusion is perfectly aligned with their purpose. Getting board and C-suite buy-in for putting more resources behind the initiative should fit perfectly into the credit union’s mission and strategic plan. But, here’s the rub. Whereas most credit union leaders believe in the importance of financial inclusion, they often get stuck in the regulatory challenges of serving everyone in their field of membership, including underserved communities from different situations.
Because so many of the laws that govern compliant financial services are, on their face, restrictive, they worry about running afoul of the rules. Our team of risk and compliance experts has heard this objection many times, and while we agree financial inclusion comes with hurdles, we also know they are not insurmountable.
We’re far from the only ones to recognize that financial regulation need not stand in the way of financial inclusion. Credit union professionals who work in governance, risk and compliance (GRC) functions know it, too. That’s because understanding the applicable laws and regulations allows these professionals to properly evaluate risks and requirements and remain in compliance. GRC leaders are uniquely positioned to help credit unions overcome perceived road blocks and move their financial inclusion missions forward. They can determine if any adjustments need to be made to policies or procedures to accommodate both the regulations and any expansion to products and services to better reach underserved communities. This special group of credit union leaders is poised to make a huge difference in the lives of people and underserved communities.
If you are a credit union GRC leader (or if you work for one) you have a tremendous opportunity to light a fire under your cooperative’s financial inclusion strategy. Go talk to your CEO today and let them know you are excited to mow down any of the misconceptions about regulations that may be preventing your credit union from helping people ignored (or worse, preyed on) by both mainstream and alternative providers.
If you’re a CEO reading this, go take the temperature of your GRC team. If they are as passionate as you about extending your credit union’s reach into the deeper, unseen parts of your community, empower them. Give them the green light to dig into what’s stopping your deposits/savings, lending, financial education and payments teams from bringing the most vulnerable into your membership.
Credit unions that have made a concerted effort to introduce more community members to the cooperative model of financial services will tell you that doing well by doing good is not only possible, it’s life changing. So to credit union GRC professionals, I urge you to join the conversation. Your voice is important to achieving richer financial inclusion.
There are many helpful tools and experienced partners, including our team, available to assist credit unions with their financial inclusion mission. If there’s anything we can do to support you and your efforts, please reach out. Helping the credit union movement live out its purpose in a more inclusive manner is a high priority for our team.