Eyes on the Horizon

The future is anything but bleak for credit unions.


Jacques Cousteau once said, “If we were logical, the future would be bleak, indeed.

But we are more than logical. We are human beings, and we have faith, and we have hope, and we can work.”

No one has proven that concept to be true more than credit unions, which carried forward with a positive mindset and hope for the future when it was more popular to let projections of fear and pessimism rule one’s actions. Much like that famous explorer of the aquatic world, credit unions explored the full realm of possibility in a financial environment others might have considered near uninhabitable.

Despite the year’s challenges, the quarter brought 80% growth and positive earnings as the industry provided $1 billion of liquidity nationally per business day (the highest 3Q lending activity in five years!). Our snapshot of credit unions during the third quarter shows an industry growing stronger and brighter as the financial world stands primed, calling out for improvements, innovation, and revolution in both thought and practice.

Just shy of 150 for-profit institutions have disappeared this year, leaving gaps in financial coverage and a precarious (at best) perch for the communities and consumers they once supported. Ever conscious of their social policy, the three credit unions highlighted in our ON THE CUSP section fill these service gaps and expand cooperative values across the nation. From supporting their not-for-profit peers, to acquiring assets and consumers from the banking world, credit unions are a stabilizing force in cases of consumer turbulence when other institutions change or falter.

Credit unions did not escape the recession unscathed, but as economic beacons burn brighter in year’s end than expected, we can see the true progress the industry has made in territories both familiar and novel. In our Industry Performance section, Jay Johnson’s article, “Make Big Plans for 2011,” provides more than 13 pages of good news found in the U.S. economic outlook and mirrored in the fundamentals of our industry’s performance. Across both sides of the balance sheet, we drill down on the activities and mindsets of credit unions hard at work in their local economies, greasing the wheels of the larger national turnaround.

In the end, no one knows “local” like credit unions, which makes expanding and sustaining business over multiple marketplaces a challenge the industry is well capable of undertaking. In this quarter’s Anatomy of a Community Credit Union, we look at how one institution, $6 billion Security Service Federal Credit Union, positions itself as a financial cornerstone of two diverse markets: San Antonio, TX, and Colorado Springs, CO (and as of mid-December, SSFCU is entering yet another market, Nevada). From high-level market analysis to the detailed framework of institutional goals, product lines, training, and marketing that allow the credit union to be in two places at once, writer Rebecca Wessler brings the talents and insights of SSFCU’s executive team right to your fingertips.