Working Toward a Shared Vision

It’s time for the CU movement—and only the CU movement—to define itself.

August 13, 2012

Last month, I marked my second full year as president and CEO of the nation’s largest advocacy group for credit unions. I’m grateful for the opportunity, and proud to serve.

My time at CUNA’s helm has bolstered my long-held belief that, to succeed, cooperative credit unions must collaborate as much as possible in the present, while looking with common purpose and vision to the future. A future dedicated to the financial well-being of our consumer/members and—by extension—all Americans.

Is that too much to ask?

Not at all. In fact, that vision definitely is within our reach. And we’re working on it, right now, at CUNA.

Achieving that vision starts with all of us taking charge of how we define ourselves. As I said in June at our America’s Credit Union Conference in San Diego, for too long we’ve let others—including banks and regulators—delineate what credit unions are and what we should be.

Isn’t that our role as credit union practitioners and advocates? After all, most of us agree on the common values that bind us together as a movement: People helping people and people before profit. We’re all member-focused, cooperative, and not-for-profit.

What if we could agree on a vision for our movement, based on these commonly held values and principles—a vision to guide our movement for the future?

What if that vision could lead us from today’s 95 million members to 100 million, and even more, in the near future?

Wait, there’s more. Last year, credit unions delivered more than $6 billion in direct financial benefits to their members, in the form of lower interest on loans, higher returns on savings, and lower or no fees. What if in 10 years we could triple that level of benefits to our members?

How about significantly expanding our footprint in the financial services market? I realize it took 104 years to reach the $1 trillion asset mark (which we surpassed last spring). But, at the rate we’re growing, in 10 years our total assets could be $2.5 trillion.

How many times have we said, “Credit unions are the best-kept secret in financial services”? What if we could inspire collaboration to create greater public awareness about ease of membership and the value of benefits? Wouldn’t that certainly, and once and for all, pull away the cloak of secrecy?

None of this, in my view, is outside our reach. In fact, CUNA is working on a vision for credit unions that, we think, will go a long way toward providing answers to these questions. We haven’t finished our work, but we will soon. And then we’ll share our vision with you.

But that won’t be the end of the work; to achieve the vision, we’ll have to take some strong steps. We’ll be:

► Challenged to remove barriers that prevent us from more easily serving more Americans with the financial products they need, want, and deserve;

Obligated to promote awareness about what credit unions are, what they offer, and how they’re different (and better) than other financial service providers; and

► Tested to deliver service excellence to our members.

Fortunately, credit union people are no strangers to hard work and commitment. These steps are also within our reach.

Further, I have no doubt credit unions will have varied opinions regarding the strategies and tactics we should adopt to achieve our goals as outlined here—in pursuit of the ultimate vision.

That’s OK. The credit union movement is blessed with a passion for success among its devotees, and with a high number of very bright people who share a torrent of very good ideas.

How we get to the vision is less important than establishing and working toward it. That’s something we can all agree on and start moving toward.

I look forward to sharing our vision for the future. And I’m optimistic about credit unions being Americans’ choice as their best financial partner.

 BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO