Can You Brag About Your Cooperative Score?

Imagine if you could concretely measure the cooperative principles of the credit union industry.


Imagine you’re an athlete who just executed a beautiful dive off the high platform. You emerge from the water to a panel of judges holding up cards that confirm what you already know: Your hard work has resulted in a perfect score. That score tells you, your peers, and your competitors that you’ve achieved something you all value. 

Credit unions have many indices that provide benchmarks and rules of thumb for financial performance. But let’s consider another type of score, one with the potential to re-energize and inspire teams in a new way: A cooperative score.  

A New Measurement for Core Principles
Imagine if you could concretely measure the cooperative principles of the credit union industry. Your Cooperative Score would be tangible evidence of principles put into action and could become a rallying point for new goals and new achievements. 

Do you actively market your democratic process as an advantage over the bank down the street? Do you have a vibrant volunteer community? Have you ever paid a dividend that was clearly labeled as an ownership dividend, calling attention to how being part of a cooperative actually feeds a member’s pocketbook? 

What if doing these things could earn you a higher Cooperative Score? What if sharing policies with a colleague at a neighboring credit union added points to your score? Could such a score help drive home the point to the NCUA and other observers that you are executing on your cooperative design? If a high Cooperative Score implied your credit union has a strong volunteer community that really knows its stuff, maybe an examiner would be able to check off “Board Financial Literacy” on a list of your accomplishments.

What’s in a Cooperative Score?
Like the criteria athletes strive to meet to achieve a perfect 10, a Cooperative Score would encourage credit unions to incorporate the attributes that set them apart. So what attributes point to a high performer when it comes to collaboration and a cooperative design?

If you accept that cooperative principles include aspects such as voluntary membership, democratic processes, economic participation by members, independence, cooperation among peers, and a strong community presence, then what specific actions demonstrate those principles? Is it the percentage of members who vote in elections or the amount of ownership dividends paid or even the number of documents the credit union has posted on a policy-sharing website? What other indicators demonstrate a healthy cooperative?

In a time when many credit unions seem to have resigned themselves to sticking with bank-lite strategies that do little more than copy the guy down the street, perhaps a new index is one way to tweak the mindset. Much more than a marketing campaign to promote the credit union difference, a Cooperative Score could help underscore and reinforce the strategies that drive both institutional design and day-to-day execution.

So what’s your cooperative score? And is it anything you can brag about?

CU*Answers is actively designing a new suite of services, web-based tools, and other products that will help promote and monitor this new style of performance index. If you have ideas about ways to recognize what it means to be a cooperative organization today, please join the conversation! Contact Randy Karnes, CU*Answers CEO, at



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