In 35 years of professional involvement with credit unions I have been exposed to a huge number of unique and creatively fashioned solutions to members' financial problems. Most would have been virtually impossible by any other type of retail financial institution.
The employees of a chicken plant in Chattanooga formed a small credit union for access to loans for tires, school clothes, and to meet basic personal needs hardly imagined by most of us. There are large credit unions in east Tennessee with branches in small Appalachian towns. They will make $150 loans that are not economically feasible, because that is the need. The senior staff member of a Tennessee congressman recently related that as a young man just out of military service he had gotten a job at the DuPont plant near Nashville. He needed $700 for a used car. He had not established an employment or credit history. It was only the credit union at the plant that would make him the loan for transportation he needed.
There are many stories of often unique situations and almost hopeless circumstances where the credit union is the instrument that produces a positive outcome. As a result, I am more struck by the commonality of the credit union experience than the unusual conditions of a successful resolution in a single, poignant example. While we may focus on a condition and outcome for an individual member, the really remarkable story is that this is every day business for a credit union.
These good result stories come from the basic fabric and culture of credit unions. Over time successful managers and volunteers have become somewhat separated from direct member contact and those individual occurrences because the requirements for operating credit unions have changed. Everyone has to deal with ROA problems, shrinking net-interest margins, BSA, delinquency control, etc. Yet, credit unions continue to generate these stories that are unique to the individual member, but are really the outcome of what is business as usual for credit unions. Every loan and mundane transaction comes from the same culture and working atmosphere as these examples of making a dramatic difference in someone's life.
The collection of remarkable stories presented in this series is terrific. However, they are more than individual models or examples. They represent the what and why of credit unions that has generated these positive results overtime and through a variety of economic and operating circumstances. It is the remarkable credit union story of consistent, positive results that is at the heart of these examples. While we relate to how a credit union came through for a member under improbable circumstances, the real story is that this is truly business as usual, and not so unique for credit unions.
Tom Gaines is president of the Tennessee Credit Union League.
Personal Recollections of CUs: A CU Journal Series
To mark the 100th Anniversary of Credit Unions, Credit Union Journal is publishing "100 voices" answering, "The one personal anecdote from my credit union career that comes to my mind and which sums up what credit unions are all about is..."
Do you have a story you'd like to share as part of the 10 Voices Series? Credit Union Journal would like to hear from you. Please send your recollection to Frank J. Diekmann at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note the limit is 400 words.