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Co-ops A 'Sleeping Giant': GAC Panel
WASHINGTON (3/4/13)--Credit unions are considered by many as the "sleeping giant" of the co-op sector. Awakening that potential through collaboration and cross-sector interaction was the topic of a panel discussion Tuesday during a Credit Union National Association Governmental Affairs breakout session, "Building Powerful Alliances Across Co-op Sectors.

Serving on the panel were Mark Cummins, president/CEO of the Minnesota Credit Union Network and chairman of CUNA's Cooperative Alliances Committee; Adam Schwartz, founder and principal of The Cooperative Way; and Joanne Todd, CEO of Northeast Family CU, Manchester, Conn.

The panel was moderated by Michael Beall, the new president/CEO of the National Cooperative Business Association. He joined NCBA after serving as CEO of the Missouri Credit Union Association.

In October, CUNA's Cooperative Alliances Committee published a white paper that provided a guide on how credit unions can improve their interactions with cooperative from other sectors to grow their businesses, build advocacy and, in so doing, strengthen their communities.

Cummins told the session audience credit unions can differentiate themselves in the marketplace as cooperatives.  Today's consumers, especially, find that cooperative values resonate positively at a time of growing distrust of big corporations.

"Your members may not even know they are members," Cummins said. "They may not know they are members of a credit union, and they may not know they are members of a cooperative. You have to tell them, and tell them and tell them. But you also have to live it."

Cummins offered several suggestions from the Cooperative Alliances Committee white paper for credit unions to cultivate alliances with other cooperatives:

  • Be sure to give your new employees and board members a good, solid orientation about the cooperative business model. CUNA and the NCBA can provide resources.
  • Host a meeting of other co-op leaders at your credit union. It's a good way to network, get acquainted, and can lead to joint projects and initiatives.
  • Invite other co-op leaders to speak to members at your credit union's annual meeting.
  • Assign someone at the credit union to be a liaison with other cooperatives.
  • Once connections with other cooperatives are made, see what business opportunities exist.If the credit unions can serve other co-ops, are there certain financial products that are of particular interest to them?
  • Recruit board members that have ties to other cooperatives in your community.
  • Make cooperation among cooperatives one of the credit union's strategic objectives.
  • Use groups like the NCBA as a resource.
Among the advantages of working with other cooperatives is attracting members with cooperatives based values, said Todd, whose credit union partners includes a food co-op among its select employee groups. Todd also serves as a board member of the food co-op.

"The members of the food co-op are members of the food co-op because social responsibility and equity and fairness are important to them," Todd said. "They see the same qualities in the credit union. So they do business with us because of our place in the community. They are not rate sensitive. Think of your own credit union. Isn't that the kind of members that you want?"

NCBA's Beall said fostering more co-op interaction and advocacy partnerships will be high on his agenda as the organization's new leader.  He praised the committee white paper and urged the credit union community to embrace it as a valuable resource.
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