If Credit Unions were a brand new idea...

Fred Shamlian
September 10, 2019

WHAT IF an innovative tech firm launched America’s very first Credit Union TODAY?

What if, in 2019, Americans were introduced to the first non-profit ’bank’ dedicated exclusively to the best interests of its member-owners and their communities?

How might Apple introduce the first Credit Union? How would you?

It really is eye-opening to think of your credit union as totally new. But why? Why does that one twist seem to change things so much?

For me, it reveals that, rather than seeing credit unions as a brilliant response to current economic challenges, millions of Americans simply see an institution from a bygone era.

But consider…. America's economy today shares striking parallels with America at the turn of the 20th Century, when the first CU was born: widespread financial hardship … power and wealth concentrated in a ruling elite … and lending rates which plunged many borrowers into foreclosure.

In 1909, America's most passionate advocate of credit unions was one of its most innovative and public-spirited citizens, Boston merchant Edward Filene. The creator of Filene’s Department Store established employee profit-sharing, allowed collective bargaining, set minimum wages for female workers, advocated the 40-hour week, and helped found the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

From teachers to plumbers to factory workers, people seeking security, opportunity, and freedom from the economic abuse of the powerful pooled their strength and their savings to form labor unions and credit unions, which helped build a healthy middle class.

Can a successful, century-old institution feel new in these troubled times?

What if we tell the story of the birth of credit unions as if it occurred today, reflecting the social and economic forces of 1909 in today's diminishing economic and social mobility? By showing how the first credit unions successfully met those challenges through a thoroughly modern lens, we could celebrate credit unions as vital American institutions and introduce millions of future members to a truly innovative way to better our lives and communities.

One takeaway from this idea is to create messages that speak to the whole person - not just consumers, but also citizens, who share deep concerns about the future of their lives and country. It’s precisely this point of identification where community credit unions possess the greatest brand marketing advantage over large banks. Because credit unions exist for the greater good. They make communities stronger and more resilient. And they offer Americans hungry for something that can actually move them toward a beacon of a better tomorrow.

Today, with the 2020 elections underway, Americans are receptive to ideas that could make a positive difference. Right now, a savvy credit union could inject their story into the national dialogue and shine the spotlight on a remarkably simple and proven path to a more confident future.

An even more expansive and socially-conscious banking system.

I’m also an avid supporter of the movement to create Public Banks, where tax dollars and other civic funds provide low cost loans to important municipal, county, state and even federal initiatives, saving citizens hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments to banks, while loosening the grip of big banks on our lives, government and economy. Currently, over fifty public banking initiatives are advancing – from New Jersey to San Francisco, from Alaska to Hawaii. And the many parallels with Credit Unions - a public trust for the greater good, lower cost funds to help achieve important goals, and giving less power to major banks to sway our economies – offer an even more robust view of a healthy, socially-conscious banking system.

Of course, there’s one thing today we can't forget: Americans want what they want. They demand holistic mobile banking, convenient access to their money, and timely communications that reflect a genuine understanding of their needs. The credit unions meeting these challenges truly are one of today’s most innovative responses to our current needs, with the potential to persuade entire communities to feel really good about becoming members.

What are the biggest opportunities that you see today to highlight your credit union’s strengths? And how does thinking about your CU as “new” inspire you? I welcome your thoughts and ideas. Email me at fred@makingmembers.co.

Shamlian Creative:
a ready resource committed to your success.

The brand marketers of Shamlian Creative have long been a go-to resource for leading financial firms. Now we’ve set a new course: supporting community credit unions with insights and innovative solutions to help you build more valuable member communities.

Fred Shamlian
President & Creative Director
It’s time to mean more to your members.
Non-profit, member-owned credit unions are uniquely qualified to craft brand messages that inspire trust and loyalty. The challenge is to distill those messages into compelling card designs, shareable social content and memorable member and community experiences. That's how you level the playing field with the payment world’s big players.