November is the Month of the Military Family. As such, we salute our military families recognizing their tireless contributions to our society and the many sacrifices they make in support of our warfighters.
Military families are unique and overcome many challenges. First, they are highly mobile and must start-over every 2-5 years. While the military member reports for duty, moving also requires high levels of attention to differences in local schools and educational standards, distinct forms of installation command authority (i.e., good vs. poor leadership), and disparate levels of community support. Many of these variables are driven by geographic, personality, and budgetary concerns.
Second, military families constantly bounce between single-parent issues during deployments and reintegration issues upon return that affect financial choices and other family concerns. “Head of household” is a flexible term that can wreak havoc if not carefully managed. Emotions can affect sound decision making which increases stress levels for all family members.
Then there are all the other “normal” pressures that come with raising a family. Pressures such as: balancing a separate career, producing secondary income, buying a car, purchasing a home, saving for college, and planning for retirement. Many times, managing all these variables falls on the heart and soul of any military family—the Military Spouse.
Military spouses are a huge source of information and have always been a key to success. Likewise, the slogan: “Recruit the Member—Retain the Family” could not be more instructive. A little-known fact is when a commander really wants to know whether their policies are working or not; they should read the spouse blogs—they are brutally honest. Credit union officials could do the same.
Military spouses are also highly educated, and their “true grit” is always on display. Plus, military spouses volunteer on many civic committees and develop professional networks that rival those of senior defense officials. If all this talent is carefully cultivated, military spouses become an enormous strength in the community and can positively affect the balance sheet.
Yet, military spouses are often overlooked. Despite formal statements from senior DoD officials, military commanders, and even most veteran service organizations, there is much more work to be done and opportunity to explore. A smart commander (or credit union executive) not only recognizes this, they also capitalize on this largely untapped resource.
Engaging with the military spouse community is advantageous in unifying and exercising command authority. Smart credit union executives, particularly those on military installations, can and should do the same to consolidate their positions within the defense community. This is easy to do!
As a premier defense trade association, we hear from military spouses on all sorts of issues. In terms of credit union concerns, military spouses will always voice a real need for adapting financial products and services to make life easier. For credit union executives and board members, here are a few military family considerations worth asking and thinking about:
- Why is it important for military families using a VA loan to be able to close on a house within 21-30 days? What has changed with respect to military housing over the last decade?
- Why is it important not only for military spouses to make remote deposits in amounts greater than $5,000 but to also have immediate access to these funds? How are military spouses employed and why would they need immediate access?
- When passwords need to be reset, how responsive is your customer service for joint accounts? How often do military members deploy and then things seem to go wrong?
- If a spouse (i.e., not the “primary” member) needs to speak with a credit union official, how friendly are your credit union policies toward the spouse? Who do you think manages the family finances?
- How does your mobile technology compare with the rest of the industry? What other technologies is your credit union developing or acquiring that measures up to demand?
- Does your board of directors include any military spouses? Do any serve in an advisory role? Why or why not?
- Does your credit union partner with any military spouse organizations? Do you list these organizations on your website?
Credit unions do amazing things on behalf of military families. They certainly provide products and services to help with buying a car, purchasing a home, saving for college, and planning for retirement. However, lots of other financial institutions provide the same solutions. Military spouses make educated choices among practical considerations. Smart credit unions listen to these needs and adapt accordingly. Yet, if you really want to surpass the competition, hire a military spouse or get a military spouse volunteer on your board.
My successful military career and subsequent transition as President and CEO of the Defense Credit Union Council would not have occurred without listening to the wisdom of my spouse. In fact, she pointed out all the questions for this article as a small business-owner and credit union advocate for nearly 20 years. [Hint: As member-owners of several credit unions, why do you suppose my wife asked these questions?]