Principle #5: Education, Training and Information

The fifth of the 7 Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions is the principle of education, training, and information.

Credit unions are committed to providing financial education and training for members and employees for the betterment of the whole cooperative.  This is a great selling point!  Finances can be intimidating for many people, and in some ways banks seem to reinforce this feeling.  Providing education is a way for credit unions to help members overcome any trepidation, understand their finances, make better decisions, and become more financially secure – something that benefits everybody thanks to the principle of member participation. Many credit unions provide financial literacy training for children and special interest groups such as immigrants or veterans.

In keeping with the idea that people from all walks of life deserve reliable financial service, credit unions around the world also continue to make a difference by offering financial education and opportunities for underserved populations in places like Africa, India, and Afghanistan. The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) devotes a small percentage of every dollar collected in dues from affiliated credit unions to assist with the international credit union development activities of the World Council of Credit Unions.

This is a great principle to both reinforce within your internal culture and communicate externally, because everyone benefits when both employees and members are well-educated on financial topics.  When your employees truly feel like they are part of a learning organization, they are more likely to seek opportunities to educate your members as well.

Principle #4: Autonomy and Independence

The fourth of the 7 Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions is the principle of autonomy and independence.
Unlike most banks, credit unions don’t answer to a group of far-away outsiders; they are local institutions that answer to and understand the community. That means greater flexibility in responding to the needs of members and rewarding economic participation.

Of course, credit unions do have regulating bodies that oversee their activities and make sure members’ interests are federally insured.  State chartered credit unions are regulated by their state credit union department, and federally chartered credit unions are regulated by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which is an independent agency whose board members are confirmed by the U.S. Senate.  Funds deposited with credit unions are backed by the U.S. Government up to $250,000 (similar to what the FDIC does for banks) and credit unions are subject to insurance examinations to verify their security.

What this means is that essentially members get the best of both worlds: the peace of mind that comes with knowing their funds are secure and the benefit of not serving as an income pool for faceless bank executives.
Are the ideas of autonomy and independence understood within your credit union’s culture? Make sure your employees embrace and explain how your credit union is a stable financial partner for your community, without the hidden strings of being beholden to outsiders.

Principle #3: Member's Economic Participation

The third of the 7 Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions is the principle of members’ economic participation.

“Economic participation” might sound like a mouthful, but it’s pretty simple. Basically, a credit union gets money from its members and then loans the money out to other members.  The more members participate, the more there is to go around.  It’s kind of like the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts, or like how the chemistry of a team can make it even better than the skill level of the players individually. Credit unions follow a “people helping people” philosophy from the way they treat members to the way rates are decided.

Member participation leads to better rates and fees than a bank typically offers.  Plus, when there’s a surplus it often gets returned to member in the form of a dividend after appropriate reserves have been set aside - because members are owners rather than just customers. Credit unions don’t have any outside stockholders; they exist because of and for the benefit of their members. That’s a unique position in the financial industry, and a story your employees should know how to tell.

Most credit unions are pretty good at communicating about their rates and service, but it may help your employees do their jobs more effectively if they understand the “why” as well.

Principle #2: Democratic Member Control

The second of the 7 Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions is the principle of democratic member control.

That’s right – a credit union is a democracy. Every credit union member has equal opportunity for participation in setting policies and making decisions, regardless of the size of their accounts.  One member = one vote.  That’s pretty powerful stuff.

 Although there’s a day-to-day management structure that is not democratically elected, the Board of Directors for any credit union is made up of member volunteers. These representatives are democratically elected by all of your members (or at least the ones who vote!) to represent the best interests of the credit union membership as a whole.  Some credit unions also have junior boards to give younger members a way to get involved.

Do your employees understand this democratic principle and explain it to members?  How active are your members in the democratic process?  In some cases, increasing awareness of this principle and involvement in credit union elections might be as simple as making sure your members know that they have a vote and when elections are taking place. In other cases, you might have to do some work internally first. If your current employee culture doesn’t include an emphasis on teamwork and democracy in decision making, it could hinder your employees in communicating this credit union difference to members.

Principle #1: Voluntary Membership

The first of the 7 Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions is the principle of voluntary membership.
Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions that offer services to all people willing to accept the responsibilities and benefits of membership, without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.  That sounds pretty simple, and not too different from the disclaimers you see from most businesses.

What’s different about how credit unions apply this idea?

Credit unions serve members from all walks of life, including people of modest means.  In fact, the first credit unions were established specifically to serve the financial interests of people in rural communities whose small, seasonal cash flow didn’t earn them the attention of big banks. Credit unions have established a reputation of willingness to help those with no credit history, poor credit history, or unique personal situations that have impacted their finances.  However, that doesn’t mean credit unions only serve people with limited incomes or financial problems.  Credit unions offer a full array of products and services for any income level, often at better rates and with fewer fees than banks.

Another thing that’s unique about credit unions is that even though credit unions serve people from all walks of life, they don’t just serve the public in general. Every credit union has a special field of membership, which can be as narrow as a specific select employer group (SEG) or as broad as a community charter. Designated fields of membership help credit unions maintain their not-for-profit status.

One way to ensure your credit union’s culture reflects the principle of voluntary membership is to focus on customer service and the member experience – making each member (regardless of income) feel as though he or she is the most important person in your world. Do your employees understand the history of the credit union movement and its legacy of truly caring about every member? Look for opportunities to celebrate this legacy through communication and events that are consistent with your credit union’s unique brand identity and culture.

A Major Salute

Remember Megan? You should- she's pretty unforgettable.

Today we're saluting her continued bravery, general serve-it-up-titude and totally cute shoes with some kind words and silly pictures.

First, a bit of an explanation from CEO Roy:

"Well this week marked a first for me. For the first time in my fifteen year career as the CEO of Third Degree, I had to navigate the new reality of bidding a teammate good-bye – at least for one year. And I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible.

As leaders, we more often are required to be the teacher than the student. But not in this case. Megan, who I often endearingly refer to as “Major,” is indeed just that. Megan Miranda, account planner for Third Degree, is also a Major in the US Army Reserves. And last week our country called her to service for the third time in a decade.

Major Megan Miranda, as of today, will assume command of a PSYOPS company that will be deployed in Afghanistan in support of the US Marines. And while I hate to see her go, I know that our country needs her and that the Army picked a great commander.

I watched Megan embrace her responsibility. What struck me the most is that before assuming command of her company in the US Army, she made sure that her fellow troopers at Third Degree were well informed and that all duties were transitioned with as little disruption and stress as possible. (As if she didn’t have enough else to worry about.) She was committed through the final few minutes of her last day at Third Degree. Giving it all for the team until she walked out of her office.

Megan accepts her role, responsibility, and duty as a military officer. And while I know inside she would rather stay in her office in the renewed surroundings of the American Tobacco Campus in Durham, and her home with a vegetable garden, and a group of people at Third Degree who’ve become her family, she doesn’t have that choice. She has a high calling and duty to do her part in defense of our nation.

I will admit that while the War on Terror has raged on since 9/11, I never truly felt personally affected – until now.

So while Megan does her duty over there, it is up to me, Third Degree and all who read this post to continue to do our duty here. And that is to continue our individual contributions to advance commerce, be thankful for the freedoms we enjoy, work as hard as she will for the next year, and never lose sight of the sacrifice that so few make for the benefit and betterment of so many.

Thank you, Major Megan Miranda. I would have picked you too."

– Roy

And now, to soften the blow- here are some light-hearted anecdotes from Megan's 1-year anniversary book:

"I love that Megan can talk marketing savvy and SHOES, all at the same time."
- Holly, Media Director

"Megan serves it up daily with her can-do attitude and team spirit. She’s the force you want working with you through anything - one that does it right and does it on time. She’s a force to be reckoned with and keeps the bar high for all of Third Degree and its clients."
- Natalie, Account Executive

"Megan is on it. She catches on quick, and lives the Third Degree brand daily. And she now has a smart phone so she can check emails. Oh wait, that’s not good… What was she thinking there?"
- Jared, Account Coordinator

"With nerves of steel when presenting, Megan leads with a velvet voice and grace under pressure. The only time Megan seems the opposite of calm are when shoes or coffee are involved. Then, her eyes beam and footsteps quicken as her coveted treasures are within reach! A tip for newbies: do not to interfere with her acquiring said shoes or coffee or I’m sure she’ll utilize some of her psych ops training and she’ll torture you with mind control. At least, that’s
what I hear from Roy (which explains a lot)."
- Amanda, VP Strategic Communications

Our hats (and shoes) are off to you, Megan. See you in a year.