Historic Art Piece Speaks To Credit Unions’ Modern Role

Gabriel Metsu’s 350-year-old painting has relevance for cooperatives in the 21st century.


Gabriel Metsu (1629-1667) was one of the leading Dutch painters of the 17th century. He was a gifted, visual storyteller who used a range of subjects, techniques, and styles over his 22-year career.

When I visited the Metsu exhibit at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, at the close of the exhibit last week, one painting in particular caught my attention. Metsu painted “A Moneylender Visited by a Weeping Women,” in 1654 at the age of 25. The painting, shown here, is typical of Metusu’s skill at evoking human emotions and a sense of theatrical drama.


My interest was piqued by the painting’s subject matter. This anecdotal scene from Dutch life three-and-a-half centuries ago portrays the ever-present role of money lending and the vulnerability of those in need – in this case the weeping woman. The moneylender’s stern demeanor and abundance is contrasted with the woman’s face and empty handkerchief.     

Today's relevance

Credit has been a part of human existence for as far back as we’ve kept written records. When credit is used, there exists an imbalance between those in need and those who control credit. This scene captures that inequity.

The cooperative model, in which members own their own source of credit, is meant to address the inevitable dependency that occurs in most credit activity. The following example, which I received from a credit union leader last week, shows how credit unions are going beyond passive credit-granting practices and actively helping those who are unaware of what credit unions can do. 

“One of our employees noticed we might be able to save a member money on a motorcycle loan and gave him a call. The member told her it wasn't really a good time, but asked to be called back the next day.

When she called back, she got the member's voicemail and the two played phone tag for a few days. The employee tried one more time before taking vacation, explaining she didn't want to bother the member but she'd try to connect again after her time off.

The employee persevered, and she finally got in touch with the member. He was surprised to learn we could refinance the motorcycle and consolidate his credit card at a lower rate, all the while lowering the interest rate on his debt from 15% to 3.49%. His total savings were significant.

Yes, we saved him money, but here's what’s more noteworthy: The first time she called the member he couldn't talk because he was directing funeral plans. He wasn’t assertive about returning her calls because he didn't think it was possible to save money and lowering his payments sounded too good to be true. The member couldn't believe our employee worked so hard to contact him and was truly appreciative of the credit union for taking the time ... again and again … to reach out and help him.

The moral of this story: When we persevere, somebody ends up better off thanks to our work!

These stories are the most important result of what we do – we help people. I see it every day, credit union employees working hard to help members and one another. It’s what makes coming to work fun for me. And as I tell every new hire: ‘If you don't wake up excited that you get to help someone today, this isn't the place for you.’”

Now that's a story worthy of a painting.  


Send your own member stories and testimonials to rwessler@creditunions.com.

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