By Shazia Manus
Since 1948, credit unions, members and communities have celebrated this landmark occasion on the third Thursday of October by reflecting on all the “movement” has contributed to our society.
This year’s theme, “Dreams Thrive Here,” points to the important role credit unions continue to play in opening doors – both professional and personal – for people regardless of their financial means.
With its origins dating back to the underbanked communities of 1850s Germany, the credit union movement today enjoys an expansive global reach.
In fact, the World Council of Credit Unions reports that nearly 69,000 credit unions serve more than 231 million people in 109 countries worldwide. Representing more than $1.7 trillion in assets, these cooperatives bring economic democracy to individuals, businesses and communities alike.
In direct contrast to for-profit banks, credit unions are wholly owned by members, with each member given one vote regardless of the size of his or her deposits. Because credit unions are not-for-profit, they are exempt from U.S. federal income taxes, which is a cost savings they pass along to members in the form of lower fees and better rates.
According to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), credit unions save their members billions of dollars each year. More than three quarters of all credit unions offer free checking accounts “with no strings attached,” and members have access to more than 30,000 surcharge-free ATMs nationwide through the CO-OP ATM network alone.
While these numbers speak to the unique benefits credit unions offer members, there are other compelling reasons for businesses to participate: Credit unions are responsible for advancing many important financial practices and technologies we embrace today.
World Council historical data bears this out – especially in recent times. In the 1960s, credit unions became the world’s first financial institutions to lend to women in their own names, the first to offer variable rate mortgages and the first to provide walk-up window service.
In the 1970s and 1980s, credit unions introduced the industry’s first full-service ATM network, followed by the world’s first debit card service.
Since then, credit unions have pioneered numerous groundbreaking technologies, including PC-based home banking, the branchless bank, wireless point-of-sale systems and digital check imaging.
Today credit unions remain on the forefront of innovation, pooling their resources to deliver modern conveniences, such as mobile banking and digital wallets to members while securing accounts and data with the world’s most powerful fraud detection tools, including neural networks, machine learning systems and biometric authentication.
While credit unions continue to dramatically impact the world of finance at the macro level, they remain local institutions, dedicated to the communities they serve. By all measures, credit unions are the socially responsible way to bank.
Credit unions are very much in step with today’s digitally-minded, socially conscious consumer, and are well positioned to serve people and businesses across the country well into the future.
Shazia Manus serves as chief product and strategy officer for CO-OP Financial Services (www.co-opfs.org).