Last year, I was fortunate enough to hear Gyasi Ross give a keynote at the YWCA Racial Justice Summit. In it, he described equity as being mutually invested – that equality may give you a place at the table, but equity will give you influence and accountability.
His description resonated with me. It speaks to the cooperative values that set our 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 our 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.
We know that almost half the country could not pull together $400 in an emergency So, to me, this decision is not reflective of financial equity across the nation.
There’s another cooperative principle I believe is 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 a fiscally responsible and stable institution, and support the communities we serve. But it’s one we’ve navigated successfully as an industry.
Financial wellness training and credit counseling offered by so many credit unions today are an excellent example of relatively simple programs that can deliver against this value.
Our authentic connection to community is another way credit unions have traditionally differentiated themselves from other financial institutions. Our goal is to help people and families build financial stability.
We are becoming a more diverse, multicultural society, and with that change in demography comes different needs. As a movement, we must find ways to better understand our evolving membership. In 2017, CUNA Mutual Group launched our own Multicultural Center of Expertise – a team designed to identify how financial behaviors can be driven by culture and background, and how we and our credit union partners can amend or adapt our services to best serve our customers.
Additionally, technology is shifting how we interact and learn. But thanks to investments made by organizations like the National Credit Union Foundation, we’re able to deliver financial education to younger audiences in more innovative ways.
In summary, as our communities continue to change, the way that we connect, participate and serve in our communities must also evolve.
While, I’m very proud to be a part of the credit union movement, I’m keenly aware that financial services is the least trusted industry.
That’s why, as a part of the credit union movement, we must all remain true to our values. We must continue to demonstrate that credit unions are the exception, not the rule. And we must show that we remain absolutely committed to building equity for our members, because, after all, they are the reason we exist.
ANGELA RUSSELL is the VP, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at CUNA Mutual Group, the leading provider of insurance and financial services to credit unions and their members. In this role, Angela is responsible for leading and overseeing our work on Diversity & Inclusion and Corporate Social Responsibility. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on LinkedIn.
CUNA Mutual Group is the marketing name for CUNA Mutual Holding Company, a mutual insurance holding company, its subsidiaries and affiliates. Corporate headquarters are located in Madison, Wis.
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