My first financial relationships after graduating from college were with a local bank in the community where I lived and the credit union where I worked. There was great similarity in the operation of the two institutions. Not only did they provide me with the financial services I needed, but the CEOs of both listened to what I told them and responded with sound options. As a result, I developed a long lasting relationship with both and experienced what has now become a lost art.
Small financial institutions, both banks and credit unions grew in size and stature because they knew how to treat their customers and members. They took a real interest in every person who walked through their doors because they understood that if they treated that person right, they would be forever loyal to them. It was important that a bond be created between the person and the financial institution. Every meeting was looked upon as an opportunity to create a strong, lasting relationship that would enable the institution to become the primary financial provider for that person and their family.
For an individual, the financial institution that took an interest in them, that listened to their needs, and that provided them with advice was the one in which they would place their confidence. They were comfortable discussing their financial needs as well as their dreams of what they would like to achieve in life. They could talk about a home of their own, a new car, a vacation, money for Christmas, or an education for their children. If times became difficult and they lost their job or took a reduction in salary they knew they could walk through those doors and when they left, things would be better.
Times changed, institutions got bigger, CEO’s got busier; the age of computers came upon us and on-line banking and no-teller transactions became the way business was conducted. Personal contact, a one-on-one meeting, listening to what was said, and providing direction slowly faded away and became the exception rather than the rule. And today, in the midst of the worst financial crisis the majority of our citizens have ever experienced, we need the rule back.
Credit unions have always championed themselves as being there for their members. They proudly boast about how they began and their dedication to putting members first. People helping people has been their philosophy since day one.
Credit unions have experience in dealing with difficult times. When manufacturers closed their facilities the employer sponsored credit union would merge with another so that their members would be taken care of and not lose the services they needed. When tragedy would strike a community, the credit union would step up and provide the help that would make things whole again. When a family had an unexpected event that would change their lives, their credit union was there to help.
Now, more than ever, members of credit unions need consideration, counseling, and confidence during these difficult times. Over the next twelve to twenty four months, individuals may experience financial problems that will require individual attention and specific solutions. It is the responsibility of each credit union to uphold the solid reputation they have built of being there when needed. They must bring back the personal touch. When a member walks through the doors, the credit union must make sure they feel and know they have come to the right place. They are in the financial institution where the member always comes first.
Credit unions can and must make it happen, again.