I was attending a local charity event last night. It was on the 24th floor of the SunTrust Bank Building with one of the most beautiful views of our beloved city.
However, the gorgeous view was partially obstructed by the towers of both Bank of America and Wachovia. Staring at the larger than life logos of three of the biggest banks in Richmond, Va., I couldn't help but feel I was somehow trapped in the Bermuda Triangle of Banking, our local Axis of Competitive Evil.
I felt as though I had been held captive in the dark side waiting for Darth Vader himself to arrive. Being the credit union loyalist I am, my cohort and I began the usual banker jokes. Does anyone know how many bankers it takes to screw in a light bulb? But I then thought to myself, what would it be like if they didn't exist? Despite dramatically changing the skylines of cities all across the US, and the assault on my joke book, I wonder what it would do to us credit unions:
If big banks didn't exist I wonder if we would stay true to our credit union nature. After all, credit unions were founded because banks wouldn't lend money to the common man. Would we cease to exist?
If big banks didn't exist, would we still be the good guys? It's easy to make banks out to be the big bad evil-doers out to shake pennies from poor, unsuspecting victims of high fees. What fun would the game be without an opponent? Without big banks, would we enjoy the same unifying camaraderie and cooperative spirit?
If big banks didn't exist, would we have any point of differentiation? It's so easy to say, banks are this and we are that. It's an easy point of reference. Just like it's much easier to have a two-party political system to point out the flaws of the other side; where would the yin be without the yang?
We've learned a lot from big banks, the best way to do some things, and how not to do others. We've learned to focus on the individual member sitting across the desk, to humanize and personalize the financial experience and offer support across our industry. So, maybe big banks are good for something. After all, Luke did finally learn that Darth Vader was his father, but he still chose to follow the calling of the Force; perhaps we've helped big banks learn a thing or two as well.
Kelley Parks is with Call FCU in Richmond, Va., and can be reached at kparks<at>callfcu.org.