Kathy Chartier, president/CEO of $26 million asset Members Credit Union, Stamford, Conn., tells Credit Union Magazine about how a partnership with credit unions in Trinidad & Tobago has helped her institution's youth outreach.
What applications do these efforts have for U.S. CUs?
The organization and success of First Step Credit Union has been an inspiration and guide for Connecticut, and my credit union as well. In 2005, Denylle Yearwood, then 21 years old and the first president of First Step, gave a moving presentation at the Connecticut Leadership Conference on his role in developing the credit union.
First Step has a youth board of directors He gained as much personally as he gave. In 2006 he became a director of one of the parent credit unions, Lever Bros. The two credit unions believe they're serving a two-fold purpose: educating youth about handling their finances and helping to prepare them for the working world, while developing a new generation of credit union members and leaders.
What practices have you implemented due to this partnership?
While my credit union has been youth-oriented and had special programs for many years, the success of First Step inspired us to finally open the high school branch that had been on my wish list for a very long time. We opened our branch in Greenwich High School in March 2005. While we don't have a youth board or staff, we do have an advisory committee that makes classroom presentations and works with the advanced marketing class to create and implement a marketing plan for the branch.
We've also formed partnerships with the Stamford Town Center Kids Club and the Yerwood Center in Stamford, which gives jobs to disadvantaged teens and requires them to save a percentage of their [pay] in the CU. It also has after-school care for younger children.
On the state level, as league chair, I appointed an outreach committee that has been charged with developing a manual for serving young credit union members, those up to 18 years old.
How big of an issue is membership growth for your CU?
As a former teacher's credit union turned community, membership growth is one of our biggest issues. We're trying to grow into our increased responsibility to serve new potential members of the community and our increased costs of doing business as a community credit union.
How do your partner CUs maintain close ties with members?
There are a large number of West Indian immigrants in Connecticut. Credit unions that are directly involved in CU-to-CU partnerships, as well of those of us that are involved in the partnerships between the leagues, tell our members about the relationship. They appreciate that we're working with credit unions from their home country or area.
At Members CU, we have a newsletter article [about the partnership] at least once a month. The credit unions in Trinidad and Tobago do the same. COPOS Credit Union in City of Port of Spain, Trinidad, recently partnered with Seasons Credit Union in Middlesex, Conn. COPOS CU highlighted the partnership at their annual meeting, and included many pictures of their American friends in its annual meeting book. They're proud of their relationship, and consider it prestigious to have an international partnership—or "twinning" as they call it—with another credit union.
What lessons can U.S. CUs learn from their international counterparts?
What has impressed every Connecticut visitor or participant in this partnership most is the fact that philosophy is the driving factor in every credit union. Trinidad and Tobago credit unions truly are meeting the most basic needs of their members—like all of us should be!
The other thing that stands out the most is that they take their democratic principles much more seriously than we do. They have outstanding numbers at their annual meeting, and most everyone at the meeting will take the time to express their opinions. They're usually all-day affairs.
This partnership has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my credit union career. It has given me the opportunity to make great friends internationally and learn about the difference credit unions make in people's lives. I encourage anyone to get involved in a partnership if their league already has one.
If not, I'd encourage them to talk to their league's board of directors and to Victor Corro, partnership manager at the World Council of Credit Unions. I'd like to thank WOCCU for creating and supporting the partnership program.