During his presentation at the CUNA National Young Professionals Conference in Madison, Wis., Chad Helminak displayed a 1935 photo of a parade celebrating credit unions in Racine, Wis.
“We used to have parades,” says Helminak, director of credit union development and cooperative values engagement at the National Credit Union Foundation. “I think we can get back to that, or at least that ideal. The concept of having people celebrate being members of credit unions is something we should strive to get back to. Young professionals are key to bringing that energy back to credit unions.”
During his session, Helminak outlined how young professionals can leverage the credit union difference to energize their organizations and communities to create the infectious energy that a parade brings.
Helminak looked back to the deeds of credit union pioneers such as Edward Filene and Louise Herring, who were two of the first disruptors in financial services.
Filene, a successful businessman, donated his own money to develop the credit union ideal because he felt so strongly about it. Herring helped found more than 500 credit unions in her lifetime.
Helminak says the same circumstances exist today that inspired Filene and Herring to make a difference. The circle of poverty and its causes—low income, low levels of education, and poor credit histories to name a few—are leaving consumers outside of the financial mainstream.
“Considering all those elements that persist within this circle of poverty, credit unions have a purpose to today more than ever,” he says. “We have to find new ways to lift members out of this cycle. There are opportunities to help them not only financially but by improving health care and education as well.”
Understanding the credit union business model is essential to realizing that potential.
“Credit unions offer social benefits to members and employees that are not available through banks and for-profit financial institutions,” Helminak says.
Among those benefits are low-dollar loans, nonprime auto loans, member business loans, member dividends, financial education, and payment restructuring.
Conference attendees also offered examples, such as Individual Taxpayer Identification Number loans, 0% disaster recovery loans, and even an emergency loan to one member for a meal.
“When we start sharing these stories, we deepen relationship within our communities and help people recognize what make us different,” he says. “It also gets people fired up to come to work at our credit unions.”
Helminak offers four ways to generate excitement about credit unions:
With the opportunity to help others, working in a credit union can easily turn a job into a career for young professionals, Helminak says. “You really do have the ability to change lives. We can’t lose sight of that. It truly is the reason we’re in business.”