Immerse Staff in CU Philosophy

When there’s no longer a 'CU difference,' there will be no more CUs.

December 01, 2011
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The current environment looks promising for credit unions. While they suffered through the past few years’ economic woes, they fared much better than other financial services providers. Credit unions are still strong and getting stronger, for the most part.

With big banks falling out of favor with consumers, the media, the administration, and even members of Congress, many are touting credit unions as the best available alternative to banks.

Big banks’ penchant for high fees has alienated millions of consumers and business borrowers. Not to mention their apparent disregard for the role affordable credit (both consumer and business) must play to create jobs and improve our economy.

Credit unions now have tremendous opportunities to increase membership, grow depos-its and loans, and become widely recognized as real “players” in the communities and membership fields they serve.

Interestingly, credit unions’ future success lies in their roots and philosophy. The eco-nomic environment today isn’t greatly different than the period from 1935 through the 1960s, at least in terms of ordinary working men and women seeking financial services.

In those years, banks generally didn’t provide consumer credit to workers, at all, and were very reticent to provide mortgages.

Subscribe to Credit Union MagazineThese needs were filled by loan sharks, finance companies, and relatives. High unemployment often was a major factor, as well.

The emergence of credit unions provided a source of consumer credit. And mutual sav-ings banks, such as the fictional Bailey Building & Loan Association in the film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” provided modest mortgages for the working class.

During the ’70s, banks discovered the gold mine in consumer credit, and began offering credit cards with high rates and fees to ordinary working people. Competition among banks provided introductory offers and rewards, but the rates and fees continued to fuel huge earnings. They still do today.

Credit union philosophy dictates that character is an important factor in granting credit. As democratically controlled cooperatives, credit unions’ business model demands fair and good service to members, good returns on deposits, and lower interest rates and fees than those available at for-profit institutions.

The typical credit union takes pride in its quality of service and its commitment to help members of all socio-economic levels and ethnic origins.

It’s this philosophy and commitment that have enabled credit unions to weather the recession, gain respect and endorsement from the media and financial advisers, receive accolades from the legislative and executive branches of government, and garner surging acceptance from consumers.

Most credit union employees, managers, and volunteers are doing the right things because that’s the credit union way. But many have had very little or no exposure to the history and philosophy that brought the credit union movement of the ’30s to its current success, size, and acceptance.

There’s danger in this ignorance, because changes that look good in terms of profit might be contrary to credit unions’ philosophical fiber. In the long run, such changes could destroy credit unions’ image, value proposition, and ability to withstand tough times. Awareness of the movement’s history and philosophy, on the other hand, might avert making unwise decisions.

Here’s a wise investment: training and orientation for employees, management, and volunteers. The purpose: to acquaint them with the rich history and evolution of today’s credit unions and the philosophical beliefs that form the moral fiber of the credit union difference. Actual costs and time for training are small, and the benefits are great.

When there’s no longer a “credit union difference,” there will be no more credit unions. The difference has nothing to do with size, products, or delivery methods. It’s about core values, attitude, and service.

JOHN FRANKLIN is CUNA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer. Contact him at 608-231-4266.

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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