According to the Credit Union National Association, there are more than 135 million credit union members across the United States. What would our country look like if almost forty percent of our population had better access to equitable credit through their credit unions? Would we be able to fulfill a vision of the American Dream where our country realizes a better, richer, and fuller life for all?
This was the premise of my considerations this June when I landed in the nation’s capital to speak with folks from Congress, and regulatory bodies like the CFPB, the NEC, and the Banking, Housing, & Urban Affairs Committee. The conversations varied as we went from meeting to meeting. Still, one thing remained consistent — economic equity is a top priority for those in charge. They’re willing to work with leaders in the financial services industry to ensure everyone can access fair and affordable financial services.
Credit unions are the gateway for enabling the American Dream
The American Dream looks different to everyone — we need to support and empower organizations like credit unions who are using their resources to help everyone attain their vision of a better, richer, and fuller life.
A single mom’s dream may be to own a home close to where she works so she can spend more time with her children. A young couple may dream up a small business they can run together. A high schooler could be looking for ways to get into their dream school and pursue higher education.
With a credit union behind them, these people have a support system for their financial needs, advocates for their financial well-being, and a cheer squad for their success packaged all together. Zest AI’s 2022 Harris Poll data told us that credit union members believed their credit union cared about them (85%) and supported their family’s financial well-being (82%). What we also learned was that these same members (80%) believe that increasing access to credit should be a top priority at their lending institutions.
Credit unions provide a local and specific level of care that can go a long way in building and sustaining financial communities in the US.
Working together to remove roadblocks to accessing the American Dream
While credit unions are already putting in the work to enable their members and the communities they serve to build stronger economies and grow generational wealth, I think we’d all agree that there are some roadblocks that make this good work harder than it should be.
We live in a world where there are wage gaps that correlate to a person’s gender, race, sexual orientation — well, to pretty much every protected status, if we’re being honest. More than two-thirds of Americans surveyed in our 2022 survey believe there is racism and bias present in the current credit scoring system. An Urban Institute 2019 research report shows that more than 50 percent of White households have a FICO credit score above 700, compared with only 20.6 percent of Black households. These are all institutionalized roadblocks that can’t be solved by credit unions alone.
And while regulators are working hard to continue building the regulatory structure for financial institutions using technology for mitigating bias and delivering faster, more accurate decisions — finding AI experts to help you find the right technology for your organization hasn’t gotten easier. Financial institution leaders have said it is hard to hire AI experts, like data scientists, who have a deep understanding of what I think we can all agree is a very complex industry. But partnerships with companies that do have the in-house AI expertise can be just as effective, especially when the company acts as a trusted partner and guides your team through every step of the adoption journey.
Envisioning a better, richer, fuller life for all
It was a privilege to share the insights Zest AI has gained by working with credit unions with government officials and policymakers. A future where equitable credit access is possible is one that brings together technology providers, credit unions, and lawmakers. By listening to each other, advocating for reliable, compliant technology, and constantly pointing to a future where everyone has access to the American Dream, we’ll find the right avenues to get there together.