Credit Unions Can Be Transformative Leaders

President Bill Clinton opened the BAI Retail Delivery Conference on Tuesday with words straight from the credit union playbook.


If asked to describe the 21st century in one word, former U.S. President Bill Clinton says he’d choose “interdependent.”

“You can’t escape each other,” said the founder of the William J. Clinton Foundation in his BAI Retail Delivery keynote address. “Borders look more like nets than walls, even when you put up walls.”

When it comes to financial services, credit unions are based on the concept that interdependence creates opportunities that would otherwise not exist. And if the attendees of the retail financial services conference take to heart messages in Clinton’s speech, then it’s a concept other institutions will incorporate into their own business models.

“A fundamental obligation of every generation is to enhance the possibility of the next generation,” Clinton says.

That notion is a tenant of the credit union philosophy, as is embracing the concepts of shared responsibility and shared prosperity. These are all ideas Clinton put forth in his hour-long address. He spoke of local economics and national politics, but the broader point he was making has implications for financial services. The best practices he noted for other industries easily transfer to financial services.

For example, he says conflict has proven to be good politics, but it’s lousy economics. Cooperation doesn’t make headlines in the evening news, and although conflict might push fence-sitters to vote, it doesn’t create jobs.

To be transformative leaders, financial institutions must get back into small business lending, Clinton challenges. This is the fist step in stimulating growth, which in turn will encourage large corporations to unlock the millions of dollars they have sitting in their coffers.

“Innovation is the order of the day,” Clinton says. “Creating networks of cooperation creates innovation and obliterates despair.”

There’s a lot of “despair” in the current environment. And according to Clinton, the country won’t solve its financial issues until it addresses the mortgage crisis through assistance for homeowners as well as solutions for the financial institutions that own the debt.

Still, with his trademark optimism, Clinton closed his address with a message of resilience and hope. Betting against the United States has been a losing bet for 200 years, Clinton says. Let’s keep it that way.

Credit unions, with their interdependent design and cooperative financial solutions, have the opportunity to lead the way into a new American economy.


Oct. 17, 2011



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