Develop the Credit Union Advantage

Credit unions continually define what it means to be a cooperative not so much by being different as by making a difference.


I helped create Callahan & Associates 25 years ago to help credit unions develop their unique competitive advantage: cooperation. Every Callahan product relies on industry support. When we started Callahan & Associates, there was no Credit Union Directory that listed every credit union with financial data in 1985.The private insurers and leagues helped create that first volume – and those following – with complete state and industry totals.

Today, that cooperation is driving source of content for CUtv webinar presentations, case studies in the quarterly CUSP journal, and credit union insight for our complimentary TrendWatch call every quarter.  Peer-to-Peer and CUAnalyzer as well as the Internet solutions on were joint efforts between Callahan and credit unions that wanted better ways to analyze performance and serve members.

Our most recent cooperative venture, Credit Union Student Choice, is a service organization managed by Callahan and underwritten by three other CUSOs and 12 credit unions. With its private student loan solution, the CUSO serves almost 140 credit unions, has more than $175 million in outstanding loans, and is partnered with major universities across the country. It offers members a better way to finance higher education and reduce students’ debt burdens.

Cooperation allows credit unions to change faster and be more responsive to market and member needs. When credit unions share innovative practices – in health savings accounts, first-time home buyer programs, or marketing breakthroughs – the entire industry benefits.  

What it Means to be a Cooperative
Today the opportunities in cooperation are even greater than they were 25 years ago. The credit union system has more resources, is stronger, and is better networked. Despite its strengths, Washington policy makers are caught up in an ideological standoff in addressing society’s challenges. Some want government to take the lead in solving problems and enhancing opportunities. Others believe the private market is the more efficient, innovative option.

Cooperatives incorporate the best of both views.

To succeed, credit unions must be market-facing and provide competitive member value. But we also have a public policy role to always act in the members’ best interests.

As the 21st century unfolds, I believe this could be the time for cooperatives to achieve a national leadership role and show that economic solutions can be in the member-consumer best interest. A new generation of credit union leaders is emerging. They are taking the legacy created by their predecessors and involved themselves in current problems. The example of credit union lending during the Great Recession is but the latest example. 

Credit unions continually define what it means to be a cooperative not so much by being different as by making a difference. We believe in cooperatives as a way to address pressing individual and social needs. Callahan & Associates will continue to improve the health and prosperity of America’s credit unions, and their partners, to ensure Americans have unrestricted access to a vibrant, cooperative financial system.




July 12, 2010


  • It doesn't seem that the "cooperative spirit" once driving the credit union industry is fully scalable. Thanks to community charters, many credit unions are now bitter rivals. The community charter alone is to blame for the erosion in cooperation between credit unions.

    I agree that there is an obligation to act in members' best interests, but that too doesn't seem like something credit unions are eager to scale. As credit unions approach/surpass the $1 billion mark, they tend to become more bank-like. While they may claim to make decisions in members' best interests, decisions about what products to offer and how they should be priced are often purely profit driven.
    Jeffry Pilcher |