Strong as granite: Credit unions celebrate 90 years of the Federal Credit Union Act

On June 26, it will have been exactly 90 years since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934.

It was the throes of the Great Depression, and Americans were searching for help wherever possible. Many turned to the nation’s first federal credit unions established as a response to the financial needs of workers. As more of these unique financial institutions took hold, Congress acted to provide a legal framework, now known as the Federal Credit Union Act of 1934.

In signing this Act, Roosevelt enabled credit unions to be organized under charters approved by the federal government. While the landscape of consumer transactions has evolved with the advent of ATMs and mobile technology, the enduring essence of credit unions—their unique structure, unwavering mission, and steadfast philosophy—has endured, anchoring credit unions as pillars of stability within the financial domain.

The Federal Credit Union Act laid the groundwork for an unparalleled era of financial empowerment. Most recently, it enabled credit unions to provide a staggering $23 billion in direct benefits spread over 140 million total members in 2023. Embracing a not-for-profit structure and member-centric culture, credit unions offer consumers the promise of prudent financial stewardship, devoid of the profit-driven motives of typical shareholder-driven enterprises.

Yet, the impact of credit unions transcends individual member savings; it reverberates throughout communities and across institutional boundaries. The trademark, “People Helping People,” philosophy goes back to the earliest European credit unions, where employees during the Industrial Revolution banded together to create accessible credit. This spirit of communal solidarity remains today, underscoring the lasting relevance of a movement born out of necessity and compassion.

Today, a variety of stakeholders – from individual credit union members to corporate entities and solutions partners to state and regional leagues and associations—unite around a shared commitment to furthering our credit union philosophy across generations. Notably among these champions are the leagues, committed in their mission to safeguard and advance the vibrancy of the credit union system.

The league structure stands as a reflection of credit unions by embracing their member-centric spirit and fostering collaborative endeavors. Both are aimed at securing advocacy victories and nurturing a robust network of peer support.

For the past 90 years, credit unions have transformed the way financial institutions interact with consumers, communities, and one another. Organizations like the American Association of Credit Union Leagues (AACUL) have championed cooperative efforts and continue to do so by providing advocacy support to yield impact, fostering collaboration and professional development for league staff, and representing the League System. Credit unions remain in a strong position to spread the “People Helping People” philosophy to consumers, members, and communities for another 90 years and beyond.

Patrick Conway

Patrick Conway

Patrick Conway became President/CEO of CrossState Credit Union Association (CrossState) on January 1, 2020 when the merger of the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and New Jersey Credit Union League ... Web: Details