Credit unions continually face the challenge of how to best explain the credit union difference. Because the industry’s products and transactions can appear to the everyday consumer to be similar to – if not the same as – bank and thrifts, identifying what makes us different is particularly important.
Last week’s Congressional hearing into Goldman Sachs’ role in the financial crisis illustrates the increasing public urgency for a different kind of financial institution. The 11 hours of testimony presided over by Senator Levin, unfortunately, did little to show that this different kind of system already exists in the credit union model.
In a Washington Post article, Alan M. Webber, a founding editor of Fast Company magazine addresses the question “Is this the face of capitalism?”
“Here's the question behind the question,” Webber says, “What kind of capitalism do Americans really want? Casino capitalism? Wild West capitalism? Winner-take-all capitalism? Or are we looking for something that moderates raw, unfettered, ruthless cowboy capitalism with values that include social equity, the public good, the common cause? It is not simply a matter of more or less government regulation. It’s a matter of national values, national purpose, and social philosophy.”
Certainly the committee’s desire to seek clarity between a firm’s self interest versus those of its clients and society at large was the central theme. What no one mentioned is that a solution currently exists to this dilemma.
The credit union co-operative model dissolves this conflict with a singular focus on the well-being of the member. The system’s incredible lending performance during the “Great Recession” demonstrates the power of this option.
Credit unions are a counterpoint to unbridled capitalism. They are a different way. They represent a view of society espoused by many and captured in C. Hubert Parry’s anthem “O Day of Peace That Dimly Shines”:
Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small…
… all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled
Credit unions demonstrate that co-operation and competition are compatible. Credit unions demonstrate that common wealth can also serve individual need. Credit unions demonstrate that a society with diverse organizations can indeed aspire to “true accord.”
What last week’s hearing demonstrated was the need for a greater credit union role in financial markets, both consumer and business. Now is the time to once again tell the credit union story – the need is clearly documented!