“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.

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Sasha Kemble

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.

2 Responses

  1. Amy says:

    I saw the newest marketing banner on Verity’s site and I became concerned about a credit union I love jumping into politics and alienating it’s more politically conservative members. The banner reminds me a bit too much of the red fist in the air signs I’m seeing with the protestors. Having employees publicly acknowledge they use Occupy Seattle as a forum for gaining business is very scary, because Verity’s association with such a radical fringe puts it at risk of upsetting the 1/3 of Seattle that is conservative (also your potential members). Please don’t make the mistake of jumping in the left-wing camp. Stay the politically neutral credit union I love. If we conservatives feel unfairly branded as left-wing credit union members, we’ll likely move our money elsewhere. I don’t want to do that, but I am increasingly feeling like I don’t belong anymore.

  2. Sasha Kemble says:

    Hi Amy,

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please know that I am choosing to go down there to be a peaceful force – I feel it is important to help people understand that credit unions provide them an opportunity to give voice to the decision-making process.

    It is not my intention to alienate any of our members, and I am sharing these stories because Verity values all points of view – including yours and mine. When I’ve been down there, I am not trying to generate business for Verity. I am simply trying to answer questions that people have about credit unions, and provide them with information (aSmarterChoice.org) to locate a credit union near them.

    I agree that some of the emotions and actions occuring at the protests nationwide are concerning. Through the conversations I’ve had with people who are protesting, it is interesting to learn that tehy don’t fit into any one box. I’ve spoken with liberals and conervatives, and poor, middle-class, and even reasonably wealthy indviduals. There are people who are employed with no debt, and people who have been out of work for years and have just about given up hope. There are people who are down there viewing it as a good excuse to make new friends, and there are people who are down there to bear witness to something that they think will change how our society works together in the future.

    I do appreciate what you have to say hear, and appreciate the courage you have in voicing your concern. What I hope that our community’s population realizes is that they have a voice at a credit union, whether that voice is left, right, or center. I am concerned too, that you feel like you don’t belong. I hope you know that you do, if you want to. I hope you’ll consider coming to our Annual Meeting in April to see the ways that people can be peaceably involved in how their financial institution is run.

    Please know that I am comitted to serving all members of my community, and I hope you’ll find that to be true of all who work at Verity. We are all people with different perspectives and, to me at least, there is room in the credit union movement for all voices to be heard. I am really glad you shared yours.

    Thank you,
    Sasha

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