Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs provides a great model for approaching the financial well-being of people throughout the world.
Maslow’s motivational theory explains that while people aim to meet basic needs, they seek to meet successively higher needs in the form of a hierarchy.
The levels of well-being are:
In the past 100 years, the U.S. credit union movement has succeeded in meeting levels one and two of Maslow’s hierarchy. Credit unions offer products and services to meet the average person’s basic financial needs at reasonable prices.
Through credit unions, products and services once available only to the privileged are now available to all. Credit unions also provide members peace of mind by providing a secure place to transact their financial business.
While several top performing credit unions meet the definition of success in providing all five levels of the hierarchy, levels three, four, and five present challenges for most credit unions.
These higher levels, however, represent what could be and should be credit unions’ fulfillment of their promise and their genius.
The three challenging levels:
1. Love/belonging. People want to be part of something that’s both bigger than themselves and seen as important. What better outlet than a credit union?
Credit unions meet the third level of need by helping members be part of an organization that helps both society and members through the ‘people helping people’ philosophy.
2. Accomplishment/esteem. Belonging is valuable by itself, but it becomes more meaningful and fulfilling when it leads to accomplishment.
If credit unions are models for achievement and accomplishment beyond their members’ individual successes, they can be an influence for good outside the movement, as well. Everyone feels better knowing that not only are they better off, but they’re also part of an organization that contributes to the common good and is valued by others.
3. Actualization. This final level is defined as reaching the level of fulfillment that creates the conditions allowing one the freedom to operate altruistically.
In a regulated environment, this may be difficult to achieve, but it should be the goal.
First, the challenge is to reach the point where all the needs of individual members and the credit union are met. The bigger challenge is to continue to evolve as an organization simultaneously with the world evolving around us.
Therefore, I suggest the time is right for a 21st Century “Constitutional Convention” to review every aspect of our movement and ensure that credit unions provide all five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Credit unions can be the answer to problems facing the global financial system, which currently is based on profit and greed. Our shared spirit of cooperation can be the key success factor for global financial health.
BUCKY SEBASTIAN is executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation.
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