We talk about the "future" for credit unions, about "vision."
But we seem loathe to broach this subject of opening credit unions
to any citizen. We do not discuss it out loud in credit union forums
or before Congress. Perhaps it seems too sweeping, perhaps too daunting
a leap, but we should not kid ourselves: When we talk about the
future for credit unions, this is the question we face. We have
been extraordinarily successful in our paradigm of controlled membership.
People have flocked to us; people choose us. Those on the outside
hear of us and want to join. Should we not break the old paradigm
and create open financial cooperatives to allow them to do so?
Many early pre-Federal Credit Union Act (FCUA) credit unions were
open to anyone who wanted to join. As the movement grew, in order
to gain support among state and federal legislators, credit union
people agreed to limit their membership. Still, we have attracted
about 80 million Americans, one-fourth of the entire population.
Is it not now time to dismantle the last barriers and allow a freedom
of choice to all Americans - capitalistic, stockholder-oriented
banks or cooperative, member-oriented institutions?
There might be three kinds of people who would object to this new
vision: bankers; credit union people who believe the FCUA is sacrosanct;
and credit union people who believe FCUA merely codified principles
of limitation, ones that should remain in force.
Take bankers first. They see us a threat and have traditionally
objected to any expansion. They see the loss of paying customers.
Count on them to object.
Then there are credit union people who take shelter in the 1930s
FCUA. They believe Congress intended limited membership and protected
territories and that since we've done well under FCUA, it should
not be altered. These arguments neglect the fact that 70 of arguably
the most dynamic years of change in human history have passed since
FCUA. To quote Abraham Lincoln: "As our case is new, so we
must think anew and act anew."
And then there are those who believe that FCUA merely codified what
existed pre-1930s. Actually, FCUA was a compromise, the best likely
that those who worked in the movement then could achieve. At the
time, 21 states did not think non-profit financial cooperatives
were a good idea at all.
In any case, worrying over Congress's intent is not the point. Congress
is meant to represent the will of people now alive, not those long
gone. If we want a new law, we should be able to have one written
through our representatives - this is the essence of republican
Let us not be afraid of change, of losing protected territories
and protected FOMs. Let us rather think of the millions of Americans
who, unlucky enough to be excluded from conditions of membership
and thus membership benefits, will be able to avail themselves of
these marvelous institutions.
Open us up to all. That's a win-win situation.