Jim Nussle

Championing our difference, challenging ourselves to do more

'We’re committed to making a positive impact in the lives of every single member.'

October 1, 2019

I recently hit my five-year anniversary at CUNA. I honestly can’t believe how time flies.

Just weeks after coming on board, our movement hit 100 million memberships. What a way to start off!

Now, as I reach the five-year milestone, memberships have hit 115 million. Every day at CUNA is an opportunity to make a difference for our movement, and I’m beyond motivated by the momentum we’ve built over the years I’ve been here.

But momentum is a funny thing. It comes as quickly as it goes, and it must be nurtured to keep it going. I truly believe there’s no better way to continue our momentum than by living up to and sharing the credit union difference.

At CUNA, we talk a lot about the credit union difference. In fact, it’s our primary message in our advocacy efforts.

We focus on this message because we know our difference is what sets credit unions apart from big banks, fintech companies, and other financial options. But as a movement, it’s important that we reflect on our difference and consider how we can be even better.

When we talk to lawmakers and regulators, we always start with the credit union difference. It’s the backbone of our CUNA/league 360-degree advocacy approach because we know that when decision-makers understand our model and mission they will want to work with us to improve our operating environment.

We’ve gained a lot of credit union champions through this effort, and it has helped us achieve some big advocacy wins. But we’re not an industry that rests.

We know our communities. We know plenty of Americans need financial guidance and don’t have reasonable options. We also know we can be a solution.

‘So much of what defines the credit unions difference is already embodied in DEI.’


Credit unions across our movement offer endless options to support members. From financial literacy classes to affordable interest rates, credit unions look at members’ needs and work hard to make things better.

I’ve heard more examples of above-and-beyond member support than I can possibly remember.

And yet, I want to challenge us. Part of our difference is that we’re committed to making a positive impact in the lives of every single member. We’re willing to work with all credit scores, offer small-dollar loans, and rehabilitate personal finances.

But there’s much more we can do.

I encourage everyone to consider diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). In September, I’m proud to share the CUNA Board passed a hugely important resolution to clearly and prominently establish DEI as a cooperative principle of America’s Credit Unions.

Our board is following the leadership of Maurice Smith, president/CEO of Local Government Federal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C., in challenging all of us to look squarely at DEI and consider how we can be better stewards to our colleagues and members.

Embracing DEI is about doing the right thing for our members. But it also makes good business sense.

Studies by Deloitte and PwC found that 78% of executives rate DEI as an important issue and say it increases competitive advantage. And 85% of CEOs whose organizations have a DEI strategy say it has enhanced their organizations’ performance.

These aren’t just sentiments. Research shows that companies with high levels of racial and cultural diversity are associated with 33% above-average profits.

And as we set our sights on the future leaders of our movement, it’s also worth noting surveys reveal roughly half of millennials actively look for employers with DEI programs and would even take less pay to work for an employer that shares their values.

Studies and surveys all come to the same conclusion: DEI improves performance and motivates workers.

So much of what defines the credit union difference is already embodied in DEI. But there’s something to be said about being explicit instead of implicit.

Noting is more motivating than hearing about all the amazing things credit unions do for their members. Over the last five years I’ve been repeatedly amazed by our movement.

We have momentum and an urgency to build the foundation for a long-lasting future. There’s no doubt that embracing DEI as integral to the credit union difference will embolden the bonds within our movement and strengthen us for more growth.

JIM NUSSLE is president/CEO of CUNA.