While the rest of my neighbors are carving pumpkins and wishing me a Happy Halloween, you should see the looks on their faces when I respond, "Thanks, and a Happy International Credit Union Month to you!"
As CUs celebrate International Credit Union Week, the community will be focusing attention on getting some attention. Of course, this is one of those things that can't be dusted off once a year and then forgotten about the other 51 weeks of the year, and CUs are well aware of that.
It's one of the reasons CUs have gotten so involved in promoting financial literacy, not only providing resources at the website for people to educate themselves, but also providing resources to teachers in our schools — and, in some cases, even providing the actual teachers to our schools.
But for as a great of a job as credit unions are doing with all sorts of community activism (just see our jam-packed Community News section every week — pages 24-26 in this edition — for the proof), this is yet another area where banks have a pretty gigantic head start.
I remember the first time I learned about the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. It was in Mr. Prochaska's seventh grade U.S. history class, lo' these 30 years ago. It was part of the unit on the Great Depression. Funny what sticks with you.
I can also remember the first time I learned about another Depression-era creation, the Federal Credit Union Act. It was when I first started writing about CUs, which was significantly after I graduated from junior high. In fact, it was significantly after I graduated from college.
So, I was 12 or 13 when I first learned what FDIC stood for. I was pushing 30 by the time I learned about NCUA. There was nary a word about CUs in my U.S. history textbook. I don't recall Mr. Prochaska mentioning them either.
This is a tune I've sung before: the need for credit unions to stop being the best-kept secret in financial services. If it's a song you're already getting a little sick of, well, I've heard it said it takes six times of seeing/hearing the same message before it actually sticks, so I would respectfully suggest it's one that bears repeating.
I've been writing about credit unions since 1998, and during that time, I have seen the community make some terrific strides in raising its profile — but there is still much to be done.
It's one of the reasons I was surprised by the outcome of an online poll question CU Journal ran a few weeks ago after Jim Nussle was named the new head of CUNA. (For more on Nussle, see our exclusive interview with him on page 1). We asked what people thought of Nussle's appointment. When we wrote the three possible responses to the poll, I expected the final option, which suggested Nussle wasn't a great choice because he's never worked in the credit union movement before, to be the least-picked choice by a mile. It was the least-picked choice, but not by a whole lot (see the poll results on this page).
While I can see the value in selecting someone from within the movement for the job, I believe that "keeping it in the family" doesn't do a whole lot for continuing to raise credit unions' collective profile.
It's not just the fact that Nussle is a "Washington Insider" that brings value to the industry. It's also the fact that he's a "Credit Union Outsider." And being something of an outsider — and knowing how to leverage that — is nothing new to the former congressman from Iowa.
Republicans are in the majority now, but they weren't when Nussle was first elected to Congress in 1990. Back then, Nussle was considered something of an upstart, a member of the "Gang of Seven" who drew attention to the House banking scandal and the Congressional Post Office scandal.
Regardless of your political leanings, there's something to be said for being an upstart, and there's something to be said for the value a fresh pair of eyes can bring to a sometimes-insular group that is trying to get its message out to the masses.
Managing Editor Lisa Freeman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.