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Challenges In First 100 Years Will Help CUs In Next Century

They say that good news travels fast. But, these days bad news seems to travel even faster: with unemployment and food costs at record highs, along with the crisis atmosphere facing the financial services industry, we are in the midst of tough times.

Undeniably, the first 100 years of the credit union movement were filled with challenges that were just as daunting. We continue to face some of them today.

CEOs' Toughest Challenges

A 2007 CUNA survey cited CEOs' toughest challenges:

* 64% said member growth

* 62% said lower margins

* 10% said growing deposits

* 10% said keeping up with technology

But, as our industry commemorates "the birth of the American credit union," recognized with the establishment of St. Mary's Cooperative Credit Association in New Hampshire in 1908, no doubt about it-is and has been-our cooperative spirit that has helped us weather these storms.

And, therein may lie the challenges-and the solutions-for the next 100 years, namely, raising consumer awareness of your credit union's exceptional and extensive services to increase member growth, and ensuring the continuation of the cooperative philosophy.

For the first challenge, sharing your credit union's "good news" is key to member growth. General consumers who are looking for alternatives to banks need to know that credit unions are more convenient and accessible than ever before. Credit unions have more surcharge-free ATMs than the largest bank, and through shared branching, we rank among the biggest banks for largest number of branches for financial transactions. Now, that's convenience and accessibility.

More Good News

Here's more good news for you. There are a multitude of programs that can help your credit union grow and prosper, and many of those are complimentary, including offerings we have available at CO-OP, for instance.

For the second challenge, it is imperative that all credit unions continue the cooperative philosophy by doing business as much as possible only with other credit unions. Banks compete for members, and pay dues to fund organizations that support legislation restricting the credit union movement, so it's no secret that credit unions and banks are rivals in the financial services arena.

By doing business with credit union-owned CUSOs, credit unions receive the profits, not the banks! CUSOs also deliver more relevant products and better service than general market providers (those who serve credit unions and banks).

As an example, our own organization has prospered as the result of partnerships with other credit union-owned organizations, such as Open Technology Solutions, Covera, Southwest Corp, more than 30 state leagues and their CUSOs, CU Anytime and Wescorp, for example. This business model fosters the win-win ability of being able to offer our members the best service and price.

We also encourage our vendors to give back to the credit union movement, participate in credit union advocacy or contribute to credit union charities such as Children's Miracle Network, Filene Research Institute and the National Credit Union Foundation.

I know there is much more good news to share, but I'll leave the rest to you.

Stan Hollen is president and CEO of CO-OP Financial Services.

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