Freedom’s Many Facets
In a speech to credit unions in Massachusetts in November 1984, NCUA Chairman Ed Callahan described how in just three years deregulation had unleashed a spontaneous change from deep concerns over survival to unprecedented growth.
He cited three institutional “freedoms” as the basis for this dramatic change:
Freedom to compete in the marketplace.
Freedom to serve whom you want based on terms chosen by board and management.
Freedom to be secure under the cooperative safety net established by a reformed NCUSIF.
Ed closed by stating the heart of the credit union difference is not in the rhetoric of people helping people; rather it’s the reality of how credit unions serve the multiple needs of all members — what we do with these new freedoms is our difference.
Credit Unions Enhancing Personal Freedom
In America, personal freedom is inextricably linked with economic success. The competitive forces encouraged by a capitalistic economy means that many are still not free from want. Economic inequality continues to grow; personal opportunity is frequently bequeathed by the circumstances of one’s parents.
Freedom from fear affects not only those whose jobs have been newly disrupted by global forces but also those who have always lived at the margin. Those living in immigration’s shadow now face a particularly potent mix of fear and economic uncertainty.
At its very best, each credit union member is seen as a person worthy of respect and support. A while back, while waiting for Jim Blaine, then CEO of SECU in North Carolina, to drive me back to the airport, I watched him listen to a branch manager present a heads-up on a loan application.
The manager said this member will go delinquent several times over the loan’s life but will always make it up. This is what his experience suggests. Jim and the branch manager agreed to make the loan, despite the member’s credit history. The decision was based on the person who had the need not a formal credit policy.
Happy Inter-Dependence Day
That is how credit unions enhance members’ freedom. A sense of financial well-being is empowering for every individual. Many who cannot earn enough or aspire to the comfort of a retirement nest egg will need a financial institution that will serve, not exploit, their financial needs or uncertainty.
The essence of the cooperative model is where members and the credit union co-create equitable opportunity for all.
The irony of Independence Day is the interdependence on which all personal freedom rests. FDR gave this meaning in time of war. Ed Callahan illuminated the credit union contribution in times of economic stress.
Cooperatives daily demonstrate that freedom is more than celebrating a past event, it’s a daily practice of serving one’s neighbor in a way that enhances everyone’s self-worth.
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