International Credit Union Day

It is sometimes easy to take Credit Unions for granted in the US. They seem to be everywhere!

Here in Olympia, we have WSECU (state employees), BECU (Boeing employees), TwinStar, (school teachers), OBEE (Olympia Brewing), OCCU (logging), Olympia Credit Union, Alaska Federal Credit Union, Harborstone, EvergreenDirect, Generations CU (one of WA’s oldest), Sound CU, and WCLA (for the timber industry). What I like most about credit unions (other than the community ownership), is their unique cultures. I noticed this when I lived in Madison. The difference between Heartland and Summit could be, in a sense, traced to their origins in the phone company and state workers respectively.

In Oly, for example, the O BEE credit union stays true to its roots from the days of the Olympia Brewery with a monthly beer tasting for members!

However, I really learned about the value of credit unions many, many years ago at a monthly co-op lunch in Madison. It was a presentation from CUNA (and apex organization supporting credit unions).

The presenter was discussing the efforts to establish credit unions in Nicaragua. At the time, farmers had to withdraw cash from their bank and travel to the market in Managua. This meant that the farmer risked being robbed on the road. When credit unions came in, the immediate benefit was being able to travel without carrying cash (they could go to the CU branch in the capital).

At one point, during the Q&A, someone asked about earthquake relief efforts and the presenter demonstrated another important benefit of credit unions. He said that when foreign aid enters the country, it ends up in a bank account, but these privately owned banks (at the time) had minimal records and it was common for the banks to catch fire losing all of the deposits (or at least the records of the deposits). The money, he said, likely ends up in a foreign account without a trace. A benefit of community ownership is transparency: essentially, credit unions are less likely to catch on fire.

Credit Unions are worthy of the celebration today and everyday. Financial institutions based on values and principles. It may not always be easy to see the differences day-to-day, but they exist (even if it is simply a fee-free ATM). Stop in your branch today and give the staff a cheer!

About John McNamara

John spent 26 years with Union Cab of Madison Cooperative and currently helps develop co-op in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration and Masters in Management: Co-operatives and Credit Unions from Saint Mary's University. He has served on the board of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the Board of Governors for the late, great Democracy at Work Network. He currently sits on the Co-op Circle for Sociocracy for All. He has taught on worker co-operatives and democratic management in the summer at The Evergreen State College and Presidio Graduate School.
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