Samira Salem

Why DEI matters to credit unions

Serving underserved populations connects to movement’s DNA and strengthens advocacy.

March 2, 2021

It is vital for credit unions to seize the moment and open their doors to the underserved, removing barriers to equitable access to affordable credit, according to panelists participating in a breakout session at the 2021 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference.

Samira Salem, CUNA’s vice president of diversity, equity, and inclusion, says DEI is vital for three reasons:

  1. It’s in the credit union "wheelhouse." DEI serves credit union values and missions. "We are better organized than other financial institutions to serve the underserved," Salem says.
  2. It’s a business imperative. DEI helps credit unions perform, grow, and stay relevant in a quickly changing marketplace. Salem cites research from CUNA Mutual Group that shows 61% of credit union growth comes from people of color. "If credit unions are going to better serve these groups in the future, we need to ensure that our doors are wide open," Salem says. "That means being intentional about DEI."
  3. It’s vital to advocacy. Ryan Donovan, CUNA’s chief advocacy officer, says policymakers at local and national levels closely monitor how financial institutions serve underserved communities. "Their ultimate goal is to ensure that everyone has access to equitable, safe, and affordable financial services," Donovan says.

  Ryan Donovan

Ryan Donovan, CUNA’s chief advocacy officer, says DEI connects with credit unions’ historical roots.

The message of financial services for all that CUNA and credit unions are sharing through their DEI initiatives takes on even more meaning for lawmakers, Donovan says, with financial equity and inclusion "at the center of every single proposal" from the new presidential administration and Congress.

This presents a tremendous opportunity for credit unions, as well as a connection to their history, Donovan says. He shares a 1936 quote from credit union pioneer Ed Filene: "There must be no forgotten person. There must be no discrimination against race, creed, or color. There must be no special privilege."

Donovan says Filene defined credit unions as "cooperation on a scale that leaves nobody out," and he challenges today’s credit unions to do the same.

"This is where DEI connects with credit unions and our advocacy efforts," Donovan says. "To completely fulfill our statutory mission to promote thrift and provide access to credit for provident purposes, we need to make sure that no one is left behind. We need to be open to all, invite everybody in, and let everyone participate."

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