Why CUs Are Vital

How we’ll compete with larger entities in the future.

March 19, 2013

Every day, credit unions play an essential role in the lives of millions of Americans by providing loans to small businesses and individuals, supporting positive saving habits and building their members’ financial achievements.

However, I continue to find people questioning if the credit union model is still viable. The answer can be found in each member we serve.

Members supporting each other’s financial needs through a cooperative is not just viable, but vital in a world in which quality service is often forgotten. To attract new members, credit unions know it’s not enough to offer checking, savings and loans.

Members seek—and are demanding—mortgages, insurance and investments, while also requiring greater and more secure access through social media, mobile and online channels.

To stay competitive, credit unions must do all this while maintaining the high level of service that is our hallmark. And that means being at the forefront of technological advances.

Fortunately, credit unions are uniquely qualified to react quickly to consumer needs. Making local decisions that support member needs is part of our DNA.

While we maintain our strong local ties, I believe more credit unions will continue to build national reach through shared branch programs for national access to individual accounts and ATM networks with no or low fees.

Elsewhere, you will find credit unions offering 24/7 mobile access, as more Americans move or vacation away from home. Indeed, Denali Alaskan has had members half a world away in Antarctica successfully conducting transactions with us on a daily basis.

Probably our biggest challenge, which affects everyone in the financial industry, is adapting to future regulations—many of which have not yet been written. In today’s era of knee-jerk reactions to financial problems, we must be ready.

Often, the frequency of regulatory changes requires dedicated staff to track them. Add their salaries to the cost of updating materials and equipment to remain compliant, and we’re facing hundreds of thousands of dollars that come directly from our members’ pockets and credit unions’ bottom lines.

The role of the credit union is now more vital than ever before. An economy without the competitive effect of credit unions would feature lower-quality products and services, higher prices for those services and an unhealthy concentration of power in the hands of a few institutions.

So, how do we compete in today’s marketplace? Credit unions need to play to their strengths of strong service, while remaining mindful of how their cost structure may limit their offerings and operations.

We must embrace technologies that not only enhance members’ experiences, but also improve our operational efficiencies.

Most importantly, we must stay competitive because our members—and consumers at large —need to have a viable option to receive the best products, services and pricing available from every player in the field.






BOB TEACHWORTH is president/CEO of Denali Alaskan Federal Credit Union.