Building Equity for Your Members

Picture of Businessman balancing in financial dollar conceptLast year, CUNA Mutual Group Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Angela Russell was fortunate enough to hear author Gyasi Ross give a keynote speech at the YWCA Racial Justice Summit.

In it, he described equity as being mutually invested—equality may give you a place at the table, but equity will give you influence and accountability.

His description resonated with Russell, as it speaks to the cooperative values that set the Credit Union Movement apart from the broader financial services industry, both in policy and practice.

In particular, Gyasi’s summation of equity is core to the principles of Voluntary and Open Membership, and Economic Participation. Without influence and accountability, membership is moot, and economic participation is limited.

Consider the recent news that the nation’s second largest bank is no longer offering free checking accounts to all customers. Now, those with less than $250 in monthly deposits, or those that cannot maintain a minimum daily balance of at least $1,500, will pay a fee.

“It’s known that almost half of the country’s adult population could not pull together $400 in an emergency, so perhaps this decision is not reflective of financial equity across the nation,” said Russell.

There’s another cooperative principle rooted in the concept of equity: Concern for the Community.

For credit unions and partners like CUNA Mutual Group, it’s a balancing act to run fiscally responsible and stable institutions, and support the communities the organizations they serve. But it’s one CUNA has navigated successfully within the industry. Financial wellness training and credit counseling offered by so many credit unions today are excellent examples of relatively simple programs that can deliver against this value.

Credit unions have an authentic connection to community, which is another way credit unions have traditionally differentiated themselves from other financial institutions. The goal is to help people and families build financial stability.

“The country is becoming a more diverse, multicultural society, and with that change in demography, comes different needs. As a movement, credit unions must find ways to better understand their evolving membership,” said Russell.

In 2017, CUNA Mutual Group launched its own Multicultural Center of Expertise—a team designed to identify how financial behaviors can be driven by culture and background, and how the organization and its credit union partners can amend or adapt our services to best serve their customers.

Additionally, Russell explains that technology is shifting how credit unions interact and learn. But thanks to investments made by organizations like the National Credit Union Foundation, credit unions are able to deliver financial education to younger audiences in more innovative ways.

According to Russell, as communities continue to change, the way that credit unions connect, participate and serve their communities must also evolve.

“While, the Credit Union Movement has much to be proud of, it’s also important to recognize that financial services is the least trusted industry. As a part of the Credit Union Movement, it’s important that all remain true to the values and continue to demonstrate that credit unions are the exception, not the rule. And credit unions must show that they remain absolutely committed to building equity for their members, because, after all, they are the reason credit unions exist”

Questions about our Strategic Link partnership with CUNA Mutual Group? Contact Jason Smith, NWCUA’s Vice President, Strategic Resources, at jsmith@nwcua.org.