U.S. credit unions have grown over the last century from one small community in New Hampshire to 118 million members.
We’ve survived the Great Depression, world wars, and recessions. We’ve also contended with competition from banks and disruptions from new entrants to financial services. Time and again we’ve not just survived, we’ve thrived.
Our financial success means more financial security and opportunity for 118 million people. It’s one way we measure our “people helping people” mission, and it’s what sets us apart from our competition.
It’s our difference that puts more money in consumers’ pockets. That’s the bottom line.
We don’t squeeze profits out of members for the benefit of shareholders. We’re on a journey to empower our members with financial literacy and set them up for future success.
It’s not just about fatter wallets and lower payments. Research shows a clear connection between financial well-being and physical and mental health.
Even on the surface it makes a lot of sense. Financial challenges are extremely stressful, whether it’s one isolated event like the federal government shutdown, or a prolonged experience living in an underserved community.
These circumstances drain our energy, disrupt our sleep, and cloud our daily lives.
That’s what makes our work so important. We’re not just offering lower fees on mortgages and higher rates on savings accounts. We’re eliminating financial barriers and reducing stress.
But there’s more work to be done.
More than half of our members are struggling financially, and many Americans continue to turn to banks and payday lenders in times of need instead of credit unions.
Since 1992, we’ve grown our market share from 5.6% to 7.1%. At the same time, market share for the 100 biggest banks has grown from about 40% to more than 75%.
The market is being gobbled up. So far, community banks have been hit hardest, but credit unions can’t think for a minute that banks aren’t eyeing our members next.
Fortunately, our market share isn’t the only measure of financial health. While we have challenges ahead, we have so much to celebrate, too.
In 2018, credit union membership growth—five million new memberships—was five times higher than U.S. population growth and was the fastest recorded since 1986. Credit unions also supported members’ financial, physical, and mental well-being by providing $12 billion in total financial benefits.
That’s not all. We’ve doubled our share of revolving credit card debt this decade, our auto loan and first mortgage origination market shares are higher than at any time in more than a decade, and we’ve tripled our share of small-business loans in 10 years.
Our achievements are a direct result of the passion and drive of all of us in the movement. We’re moving the needle and making a difference in our members’ lives.
And while none of us wants to take our foot off the gas, we all need to look at our pain points and think about how we can achieve more.
At CUNA, that’s our mission: Help credit unions best serve their members. That’s why we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of the CUNA Finance Council this month, a group that helps credit unions navigate evolving economic environments.
It’s hard to imagine what the founders of America’s first credit unions would think of our movement today. But one thing is for sure: They would recognize we’ve stayed true to our core mission for more than a century.
Our financial success means success for our members, and that’s good for everyone.
JIM NUSSLE is president/CEO of CUNA.