Cooperation: A Partner Of Evolution

Credit unions' most important principle – cooperation – has dramatically shaped our world.


When you think of evolution, you may envision a tit-for-tat, dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-fittest kind of process. The word “cooperation” may not be the first word to come to mind.  But evolution and cooperation can go hand-in-hand, as “The Evolution of Cooperation,” the feature story of the July issue of Scientific American describes. Human figures clad in colorful leotards intertwine to form the outline of a human head and the winding knots of a brain on the magazine’s cover graphic.

Scientific Reporter July cover

As the debate on whether cooperation has shaped evolution is still a hot topic, Martin A. Nowak, a professor at Harvard University and director of the Program of Evolutionary Dynamics, argues that cooperation indeed shapes our evolutionary path.

Many species in the animal kingdom cooperate, even though the selfless acts aren’t necessarily advantageous for reproduction or well-being. For example, vampire bats may regurgitate blood for other bats that haven’t gotten sufficient blood throughout the day. And the supplier bat will usually go to the bat it gave to when it was struggling.

This type of cooperation is called indirect reciprocity – when aid is given based on the other’s reputation. Nowak says humans epitomize of this idea. We are super cooperators, especially when our reputation is on the line. People are more generous when they can make contributions publicly instead of privately and also when they receive authoritative information that convinces them there really is a problem.

Credit union executives and staff are cooperation experts within the financial services field. Credit unions know there’s a problem with other institutions’ risky investments, products that gouge customers, and poor financial literacy. Individuals want the experts to tell them which decisions will be best for them. So be the expert that tells them. Being a cooperatives with a member-oriented focus makes credit unions a trusted source of information where individuals can get the financial advice the need.

This expertise can be used most successfully through cross-selling. It’s the key to stealing loans from other financial institutions. If a member doesn’t know their credit union does mortgages at a better rate than their current loans, they won’t make the credit union their primary financial institution.

Educators Credit Union ($1.4B, Racine, WI) found that telling members about products and services increased the cooperative financial institution’s Net Promoter Scores, a more accurate measure of satisfaction in terms of loyalty. When Educators’ frontline staff told members about additional products and services, the credit union’s net promoter scores grew more than 5%, as Michelle Bloedorn, CEO of Member Loyalty Group, said at the Maryland & DC Credit Union Association annual conference in Ocean City, MD.  And if employees told members about three or more products during their branch visits or call center conversations, the net promoter score grew from 71.99% with no additional products and services mentioned to 84.94%.

In Seattle, BECU ($10.5B) has also seen a growth in its Net Promoter Scores depending on whether its employees cross-sell future products. When a representative told a member about other products then what the member came in for, the credit union’s NPS jumped from 62.83% to 78.77%.

Cooperation is engrained in all humans and is the core value of the credit union movement. Using this as a model for the industry, credit unions can create a fiscally healthy, financially literate member-base while capturing loans and new members.


July 27, 2012



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