Daniel A. Mica
This month folks from across the country are converging in Boston to celebrate the credit union centennial at the America’s Credit Union Conference & Expo. We do so at a time when the current economic situation serves as an important reminder of why credit unions were founded in the first place—and of the important work we’ll do in the future.
The first U.S. credit union was created in 1908 by immigrant textile workers in Manchester, N.H. Their 70-hour workweeks didn’t provide benefits or job security. They didn’t even have access to credit, as workers of modest means were widely believed to be untrustworthy. But the credit union ethic that stresses service rather than profit—a revolutionary concept back then—proved to be as practical as it was moral. And the U.S. credit union movement began to grow.
Throughout the years, credit unions have proven to be a safe haven in times of national emergencies, and an important source of stability in the financial sector.
While some credit unions were among the closures during the Great Depression, they were the only financial institutions that grew during the 1930s. Congress took note and enacted the Federal Credit Union Act in 1934, permitting credit unions to incorporate under either state or federal law and to charter anywhere in the U.S. The all-encompassing statute replaced a patchwork system that was archaic and inefficient.
Then in August 1934, 52 delegates and their families met at a YMCA camp in Estes Park, Colo., to create a self-supporting national association for credit unions, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA). CUNA’s emergence demonstrated the maturity of the movement. It acknowledged we had reached the point where a political advocate was needed along with a structured system to improve business efficiencies.
Credit unions served the financial needs of military and civilian members during World War II and the aftermath. We weren’t affected by the savings and loan crisis in the 1980s. We avoided the subprime market meltdown causing so much pain today.
Indeed, credit unions share a proud history of putting people before profits to provide access to affordable financial services to all their members.
For the past 100 years, credit unions have served the nation with outstanding commitment. It’s that dedication to mission and commitment to members we’ll honor at the America’s Credit Union Conference.
As CUNA looks to the future, we’ll continue to do all we can to help credit unions succeed and thrive. We’ll strive to find new ways to help credit unions grow and appeal to members of tomorrow, whether they’re new Americans, young people, or the underserved.
In Washington, D.C., we’ll continue our efforts to proactively seek legislative and regulatory changes that will improve credit unions’ ability to serve their members and keep pace with changing times. We’ll be vigilant in protecting our tax status from any threats. And as Congress turns to regulatory reform, we’ll ensure credit unions’ independent federal agency is preserved.
No doubt there’ll come future challenges we can’t imagine today. But CUNA and the state leagues will be here to help credit unions overcome any obstacle and discover new opportunities to thrive.
No matter the situation, one thing is certain. By doing what we’ve been doing the past 100 years—remaining true to the cooperative ideal and keeping the trust of our members—we’ll continue to look forward to many more years and to many future celebrations.
DANIEL A. MICA is president/CEO of the Credit Union National Association.