“Human service really is the only reason for the existence of our credit unions.” -Charles F. Eikel, Jr.
On Bank Transfer Day, I went down to the Occupy Seattle protest with two other volunteers from within our regional credit union network. Together, we were handing out information to the assembled crowd about how to find a credit union, and helping to answer questions asked about credit unions and how we operate.
The outreach that I performed is not in my job description. It is something I choose to do because I believe credit unions and the cooperative movement hold solutions to the economic challenges our society faces. To me, it is important to connect with those in my community to understand where people are coming from, and provide what guidance I can offer. There were many great questions asked which I could (fortunately) answer. From the basics – like letting people know that we offer all the same products and services as our for-profit counterparts, to explaining the challenges facing us in commercial lending (we face strict regulations limiting our business lending – regulations that do not apply to banks). People’s questions covered all sorts of concerns. There were even several credit union members who wanted to better understand what we do with the money that we earn on loans. After paying our operating expenses and putting money toward our reserve ratio , we give it back to our member through lower rates on loans, higher dividends on deposit accounts, and increased services such as financial counseling.
It was also nice to be able to point to my fellow Co-operators and explain that credit unions cooperate with one another to serve their community – so even though my credit union was not a stop on the March to Credit Unions from Westlake Park, I was still happy to help. And we cooperate daily, too, in order to serve our members — many credit union members enjoy the use of the Shared Branching Network to access their credit union accounts from anywhere in the U.S.
However, one of the major differences between banks and credit unions is that our members are our shareholders, they are our owners. Not only that, but our members have every right to stand up for a position on the board, in an election where they can be voted in by their peers. Like many corporations, credit unions have a board of directors that govern the business. The board provides a diversity of experience and perspectives to guide the credit union, and works closely with the executive team design and enact policy, and provide strategic guidance for the organization.
The board members are volunteers — though they will not be out-of-pocket for expenses incurred in their service, they are not compensated for the time they give to their credit union. And it is a fair amount of time, from board meetings each month, to participation in several of the committees they serve – it takes a level of dedication that can be challenging for some to meet. Seven of Verity’s nine board members started out as board associates — basically serving as non-voting members of the board while gaining the knowledge and experience to better serve the needs of the credit union.
Though I’ve been employed by credit unions for over five years, I’ve had only a minimum of interactions with the board of directors at both credit unions I’ve served. And at Verity, until last week, all I’ve really done is exchange smiles when crossing paths with board members in the halls. I’ve heard a few speak at the Annual Meeting last April, but I’ve never had a real conversation with them. So when we invited our members to come to an informal Meet & Greet with our board, I asked if I could come, too.
If there’s a pattern among them that I’d like to see continued, it’s their desire to contribute to their community – to lend their knowledge and experience to the credit union they belong to. Every member has a vote, and every member has a right to stand up for election to the board. As I spoke (and eavesdropped, shh!) to some of the members in attendance, I was proud that our participating members do demonstrate that same desire to help their community. The turn out at the Meet & Greet exceeded my expectations. Seeing so many members interested in understanding the right to democratic process that they have through membership in a credit union is incredibly exciting for this Verity employee. I hope that this level of interest and engagement is ongoing, and that we have standing room only at our Annual Meeting next April, and record-breaking ballots returned for our board member elections.
If you’re interested in serving Verity by participating as a board associate, complete an application and return it with your resume to Shari Storm.
Sasha may be the shyest social person you’ll ever meet. She joined Verity in 2009, with a couple years in the Credit Union Movement already tucked under her belt (amidst coffee-making and bagel-slinging, running a non-profit, and trying her hand at farming).
An eternal optimist (except, you know, when she’s not), she enjoys exploring her surroundings and having adventures with friends; yoga, running, reading, writing, and good food. Though not a remarkable cook, she is nonetheless a sincere one and admits she’d be better if there were three more hours in every day. When not doing one of the many activities mentioned in the previous two sentences, she counts herself lucky to be peacefully at home, cuddling with her partner and their cat.