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Minnesota CU Network co-ops discuss collaborations
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (4/27/12)--The Minnesota Credit Union Network (MnCUN) hosted a panel of leaders discussing how credit unions can develop mutually beneficial partnerships with local cooperatives, as part of its celebration of the International Year of Cooperatives.

During the Minnesota Credit Union Network's Annual Meeting & Convention on April 13-14, cooperative leaders participated in a panel discussion on how credit unions can develop mutually beneficial relationships with area cooperatives. (Photo provided by the Minnesota Credit Union Network)
Held April 13-14 during MnCUN's Annual Meeting & Convention, the session provided credit unions tangible ideas of how they can help strengthen the cooperative movement. Facilitated by cooperative consultant Adam Schwartz, the panel of cooperative leaders shared collaboration success stories.

The panelists included Credit Union National Association (CUNA) President/CEO Bill Cheney, The Wedge General Manager Lindy Bannister, SPIRE FCU President/CEO Dan Stoltz, and Crow Wing Power CU Vice President Diane Viehauser.

Schwartz, who previously served as the National Cooperative Business Association's (NCBA's) vice president for public affairs, said it is important for credit unions to emphasize the "cooperative essence of who they are."

Understanding the importance of cooperative partnerships, Stoltz outlined his credit union's cross-promotional work with four area grocery co-ops. SPIRE FCU, based in Falcon Heights, offers a branded Visa card program to the members of grocery co-ops and shares a portion of the interchange income with the cooperative. Stoltz stated that this relationship adds value to the membership offerings of the credit union and the grocery co-ops.

One of SPIRE FCU's partners is The Wedge Community Co-op, which is the largest single-store cooperative in the country. General Manager Bannister emphasized the benefits of the co-op's relationship with SPIRE FCU. She encouraged credit unions to examine their existing products and services and look for natural ways these offerings can be used to benefit members of other local cooperatives.

"Anything we can do together--as a cross sector--is going to make us stronger together," Bannister said.

The third representative on the panel was Viehauser of Crow Wing Power CU in Brainerd who shared the story of how the credit union developed from the Crow Wing electric cooperative. Viehauser outlined the credit union's rapid growth and strong connection to the cooperative. She said community members appreciate the cooperative business model and strongly support the two organizations.

CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney praised the panelists for their collaboration efforts and encouraged attendees to build similar relationships.

"I can't think of a better time to promote cooperatives--with this year being the International Year of Cooperatives," Cheney said. "I think it's greatly important that credit unions work together with cooperatives. The bottom line is cooperatives are a better way."

Cheney went on to outline CUNA's commitment to supporting and strengthening the cooperative movement thought involvement with the NCBA and other cooperative organizations. He also highlighted examples of cooperatives nationwide that educate consumers about the benefits of co-ops.

As the state with the most cooperatives, Minnesota is actively involved in celebrating the International Year of Cooperatives. In addition to hosting the cooperative panel at its Annual Meeting & Convention, MnCUN has coordinated media relations and consumer awareness activities to spread the message about cooperatives and the benefits they bring to communities and individuals.
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