If you’re a credit union, then you’re a cooperative. If you’re a cooperative, then you’re owned by the members who use (or work for) the business. If you’re member-owned, then you are beholden to your members’ best interests. If you’re beholden to your members’ interests, you must return value to your members and their community as a whole.
When you look at the value you return to your members and the impact you have on the community where they live, can your credit union say it is giving a solid return on the community’s investment? Or in other words, if you’re asking people in the community to choose you for their financial services needs over anyone else in the area, are you putting enough significant value back into the community to justify their decision to do business with you? Credit unions need to be thinking in terms not only of the ROI they gain from a business bottom-line perspective but also the other side of that equation—the community’s return on investment in your credit union.
I get it, you may be thinking, we are a business, not a charity…we may be not-for-profit but we’re not non-profit and if we don’t make money, we won’t be able to stay in business to serve the community at all. I served five years as the president of the board of directors for one of the country’s largest natural food cooperatives and I always had this reality in the back of my mind as we pushed the executive team to stay on target with our financial results and meet projected budgets every month. But I also knew that the only way we could outperform the competition was through serving more people that were not getting their needs met elsewhere, offering more food options and opportunities that didn’t exist elsewhere, and giving more back to the community in ways no one else was. People who cared about any of these things would choose us, and people who didn’t probably wouldn’t choose us anyway.
As a credit union, a cooperative, a member-owned and community-focused financial services provider, you, too, have a point of differentiation in serving those who have needs that are not being met elsewhere, offering products and services that don’t exist elsewhere, and affecting a positive economic impact in the community because of your presence in it.
Seeking biggest impact for lowest cost and effort
Here’s the most amazing part of ensuring your community is getting its return on investment in you—it doesn’t require a huge up-front investment from your credit union. It simply requires knowledge of your community’s specific unmet needs and wiliness and dedication to go into service of that need.
At Filene, we are passionate about testing the ideas that emerge from our research which we believe could fill a major unmet community need that credit unions could feasibly and expertly offer as part of a smart business strategy. And we are more than grateful for the bold and wise credit unions that raise their hands to work with us to pilot these ideas with their members. We have quite a few research-backed solutions in testing right now—meaning these credit unions are taking full advantage of brand new ways to give a solid ROI back to their community while being business savvy.
More than 40 credit unions across the U.S. and Canada that recognized certain households in their communities were financially fragile (a disproportionate amount of them minority households,) have worked through us to offer five different products developed from our “Reaching Minority Households Incubator” research to meet specific needs of such households. Between these five programs, people who never could before now have opportunities to get personal, home and auto loans; to start businesses; to get out of exploitative debt cycles; to build credit and savings accounts—you know, the things we might all expect from our financial services provider. And in fact, during the 18-month testing period, 18,559 members of communities all over North America received these needed services. You can read much more about the win-win-win results (individual, community and credit union) in the downloadable 112-page report, but this direct quote from a new member of one of these credit unions sums up the night and day impact these offerings had: “Taking out this loan has helped immensely. I would be homeless without it.”
And it doesn’t stop there…
Depending on what your community needs – and your credit union must be the expert on knowing that – there are a variety of options to test and offer to ensure the community is getting the ROI it deserves from you.
There is a product that helps people with assets (and loved ones) to protect, but without a will, to more easily get over that hurdle of creating a will.
There is a product that helps graduating high schoolers and their families to more tangibly realize the full impact of college tuition, student loans, interest rates and repayment schedules BEFORE incurring the debt, allowing them to play out different scenarios and land on a more informed decision so there are no unpleasant surprises upon graduation.
There is a really cool program that allows credit unions to work with employers to offer affordable, non-exploitative small dollar loans to their employees and similarly, a product to offer small-dollar loan options to members.
These are all ways that credit unions with their eyes on the future are ensuring the community sees value in having them stick around in the community, rather than only focusing on shortsighted quarterly returns for the business. Because if you’re not going to offer a return on your community’s investment in you, you might as well step out of the way for Bank of America or Wells Fargo to decide what the community gets in return for their business…which is a scary thought for all of us.