In our movement, we talk a lot about how credit unions are different.
By different, we mean these cooperatives are exceptional, dedicated partners to the members and communities they serve.
It’s our DNA and our structure that makes us directly and uniquely accountable to our members in good times and in bad.
This is a challenging time during which credit unions’ structural difference delivers on the promise of our cooperative superpowers for members.
A remarkable example has been the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provided forgivable loans to businesses impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19).
The vision behind PPP was to sustain struggling small businesses and put paychecks into the hands of those who need them most.
The goal was not only to provide financial help to workers in the short term, but also to ensure they can return to work once social distancing restrictions have eased.
The program rolled out quickly and hit some understandably frustrating speed bumps, but credit unions kept their feet on the pedal. Even before the first $349 billion in funding was exhausted, millions of American workers and the small businesses they work for got help from their credit union.
The real stories are the definable moments in members’ lives.
When schools were ordered closed in Washington, the faculty at Seattle-based Leadership Preparatory Academy scrambled to create an online learning format for students, many of whom came from high-anxiety environments. Working just as fast and furiously was Verity Credit Union, which provided a PPP loan so teachers’ salaries and benefits would continue.
Online learning is a big success, and as the school’s founder, Maureen O’Shaughnessy, says, “Financial peace of mind at a time like this is priceless.”
Jason Olsen of Salt Lake City must feel the same way. Mountain America Credit Union, where he is a member, funded one of the first PPP loans in the country. It allowed Jason to keep the 54 employees at his autobody shop on the payroll.
These are just two of thousands of success stories.
Delivering these government-guaranteed funds had its challenges, but it’s what credit unions do.
You crossed the finish line as construction companies, dental offices, light manufacturers, brewpubs, and other businesses from communities large and small reached out to local credit unions for help.
There isn’t a credit union in the movement that hasn’t leaned in to help members this year. CUNA’s surveys have found you’re modifying loans, waiving fees, and offering low- to no-interest emergency loans, financial counseling, and options to skip and extend loan payments.
During all of this, your not-for-profit, cooperative DNA is as strong as ever. We saw this in Philadelphia, where American Heritage Credit Union donated 50,000 protective facemasks to local hospitals so those on the front lines can treat COVID-19 patients.
Your commitment to charity has been clear from Portland, Maine, where Town and Country Federal Credit Union delivered meals to essential healthcare workers, to Portland, Ore., where OnPoint Community Credit Union donated $100,000 to Meals on Wheels People.
Credit unions are the heart and soul of their communities and heroes to their members. The cooperative structure is the foundation of all that credit unions do.
Unlike other financial organizations, whose primary focus is serving the interests of Wall Street investors, credit unions are not driven to enrich bottom-line results. Rather, they are driven by a mission to serve consumers on Main Street.
It makes their services different—and better—than those of traditional banks.
CUNA, leagues, and credit unions have delivered an enormous impact by working together to advance credit union priorities that benefit members and other consumers who depend on cooperatives for their financial well-being. Thank you for all you have done, and continue to do, to advance and protect our not-for-profit credit union structure so we can fulfill our mission and commitment to always put people before profits.
Someday soon we will look back at this and COVID-19 will be a language spoken only in history books or referenced on economists’ historical graphs.
Here’s hoping the individuals, families, and businesses across our nation will once again be strong and that credit unions are more relevant than ever before.
Thank you for all that you do to make credit unions shine.
TROY STANG is CUNA Board chair and president/CEO of the Northwest Credit Union Association. Contact him at 503-350-2212.
This article appeared in the summer issue of Credit Union Magazine. Interested in subscribing? Visit news.cuna.org/subscribe.