‘They can count’
Whatever else one might say about politicians and elected officials, those who are successful have one thing in common: They can count.
That is, they can count how many constituents are affected by a pending piece of legislation—and they can count how many votes they need to keep their job on Election Day.
With that in mind, what do credit unions bring to the table in terms of numbers that lawmakers can count?
In 2014, U.S. credit unions crossed a major threshold: 100 million memberships. CUNA, leagues, and credit unions celebrated this achievement with events, contests, and media announcements—both traditional and social.
And rightfully so: This milestone powerfully demonstrates the degree to which more American consumers are choosing credit unions as their best financial partner.
Yet 100 million credit union memberships represent something else when it comes to removing the legislative
and regulatory barriers that hinder credit unions from better serving all those consumers: We represent millions of American voters and constituents.
Ultimately, if the credit union movement is to expand its charter and remove regulatory burdens—to say nothing of
protecting our tax status—we have to constantly remind lawmakers how many millions of Americans belong to credit unions. Better yet, we have to empower those millions of consumers to act on credit unions’ behalf as member-owners of these financial cooperatives.
Unfortunately, this is where those of us in the credit union world too often let down our members and ourselves, as credit union leaders.
In an exhaustive research project involving 70,000 credit union members in 2013, CUNA found that 78% of members agree their credit union could contact them about proposed laws impacting how their credit union operates and ask that they take action to contact elected officials (“Study shows value of advocacy, member education,” p. 28).
Moreover, credit union members in focus groups tell CUNA that it’s their credit unions’ responsibility to inform them, as owners of the cooperative, of legislative and regulatory issues that affect the institution’s success.
Credit union members— the very members we serve and work for—tell us they want to hear about these issues and are willing to do something about them for the good of their credit union. So, why do we too often fail to let our members do the talking for us?
Sure, many credit union CEOs, managers, and volunteers travel to Washington, D.C., for CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference or Hike the Hill, or respond to the latest CUNA or league action alert to send a quick email to Congress.
But if we aren’t engaging our millions of members in these fights directly, isn’t it like taking the proverbial knife to a gunfight?
CUNA’s research found something else of note as well: Not only are members willing to listen to their credit unions on legislative and regulatory issues and consider taking action when asked, the very act of asking them can actually increase their membership loyalty and wallet share.
In one survey, some 86% of credit union members who previously had been asked to take action on a legislative priority—in this case the successful Don’t Tax My Credit Union campaign—said they’re more likely to do a greater share of their personal banking at their credit union in the future.