I found Frank Diekmann's column on credit union trends (Credit Union Journal, "Steamboat Pilot's View On Flow of the Current," Jan. 14, 2013) encouraging for one reason: He gets it.
The membership numbers do indeed mask a bigger-and disturbing-story. Yes, it's good news that credit union membership rolls swelled to nearly 100-million people in 2012. But as Frank rightly points out, nearly two-thirds of that growth is clustered in credit unions with assets greater than $1 billion, while more than half of all others have lost members. We need to pay attention to these numbers and find meaningful ways to help mid- and small-sized credit unions prosper. Otherwise, many of them will be lost to the pages of history.
Why does it matter? Wouldn't the industry thrive with fewer but bigger credit unions? No. Medium and smaller credit unions are the heart of our cooperative movement. Yet, two -thirds of them have less than $50 million in assets; 80% have less than $100 million.
Even so, these credit unions are making a difference in people's financial wellbeing, often in places where other institutions won't bother. They lend money to small-business members to expand an auto-repair shop or fund a start-up bakery. In turn, this helps grow the local economy, keeping money where it can bolster the community and provide jobs. Smaller credit unions tend to be more accessible and provide greater opportunities to volunteer. And it's their collective voices that are most likely to be heard when our not-for-profit status is questioned.
Not Just Lip Service
Our movement needs credit unions of all sizes, and the only way to ensure it is to return to our roots and find meaningful ways to work together. I've been heartened this past year by a core group of leading credit unions in our region-large and small-who founded Rekindle-a framework to drive collaborative and back-office innovation. It isn't lip service, and it isn't easy. Like the early pioneers of our movement, these leaders are rolling up their sleeves and working out ways to share expertise and resources, recognizing we're stronger together than apart.
I'm proud of Mid-Atlantic Corporate's members for launching Rekindle, and I'm honored that we've been invited to help lead the charge. Through collaboration, I believe our best days are ahead-the beginning of the second century of credit unions in America. Thanks to the Credit Union Journal for engaging in this discussion.
Jay R. Murray, President/CEO