Who Are Modern-Day Pirates?

Credit unions must build on their past to capture the piracy culture in today’s youth.


The pirates that Matt Mason, author of The Pirates Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism describes are not the sea-fairing, peg-legged, Johnny Depps of the world, but instead regular people like me and you. Mason examines the past, present, and future of capitalism, piracy and youth culture to draw startling connections that support an even more startling hypothesis: Piracy is essential for the continued advancement of culture and innovation.

When markets fail to provide services (like credit) that people feel entitled to, they seek sources outside of the economic systems, and provide it for themselves. Some current examples of this include person-to-person financing sites like Zopa and Prosper that have emerged as a result of the credit crunch. These are the modern-day pirates – the people who challenge the status quo to provide necessary products and services.

For me, however, the most compelling part of his book are the similarities of Mason's arguments to the credit union industry and the subsequent ties to youth culture of all generations. If the similarities between file sharing and credit unions are not readily apparent, consider the inception of the credit union industry itself: In 1908 the American economic system failed to provide some with one of the most fundamental needs known to man, the access to affordable credit. In turn, "pirates" fought back and did it their way by creating the first credit union.

Over the years, credit unions have worked together to form CUSOs that allow them to share operating expenses and offer new products or services without using bank-owned entities. The do-it-yourself, pirate mentality is where youth culture comes in. Youth of all generations generally exhibit the initial desire to do things their way, to rebel against the norm, whether it is because they believe there is a better way, or because they don't buy into the status quo. Large marketing firms and corporations have picked up on this trend, and successfully incorporated it into their own messaging by focusing on individuality.

Right now, I can't think of an institution in the financial industry further from the status quo than the natural person credit union. The industry was built on "just doing it" (Nike’s motto), and "thinking differently" (Apple's messaging). The good news is that some credit unions are beginning to run with this messaging, exploiting the current opportunity their big bank counterparts have created. Look at this recent example from Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union ($217M in Germantown, MD).

(Text: Your bank just merged. Congratulation. Now you're even less important.)

Some of the accompanying text reads, "When you do your banking, do you feel like a number? Or a member?". The blurb then goes on to describe the "big-bank" products and services they offer before detailing the credit union advantage: "In fact, we can even do things a bank can’t do, because Mid-Atlantic is a not-for-profit organization, managed for the sole benefit of our members. Any profits are returned to those members as higher deposit rates as well as lower loan rates and fees".

If you aren't preaching the natural person credit union difference in some way right now, you need to be. The industry has long searched for a differentiator, but now it is the credit union industry that continues to "push back in the name of fairer society" and provide members in need with a service the competitive market system has failed to do. It's time to spread the word.

For more information on youth and the credit union message, check out episode 2 next week on www.creditunions.com/cyouth. We walked the streets and talked to D.C. area college kids about the differences between banks and credit unions. Also, if you want to receive alerts about new content posted to our website and blog on a bi-weekly basis, be sure to sign up here.




March 9, 2009


  • Like pirates, credit unions accept members of all colors and creeds, have secure methods of storing our booty and on our loan rates, we offer low APRrrrrrrrrrr...