For the last few years I have become more and more disillusioned with the people who propose new CU charters, or maybe the people who tell them how to approach it. Their intentions might be good, but they start out with documents that sound more like people looking to “do good for others” rather than people looking for solutions for themselves as consumers, who hope to be owners. They sound more like people who know the path for others, than people who see the solution to their needs as consumers. They appear more to be missionaries than business visionaries. And for those reasons I worry that our efforts to ignite new endeavors are based more on the misguided good intentions of people towards consumers, rather than the drive of people building a cooperative with the intent and promise of customer-owners and first person consumers.
Recently I was asked to comment on a document outlining the vision for a credit union start up. It pushed me over the edge, and I sent back these comments:
- A CU charter should start by identifying the consumer owners and the community it is being organized for. A CU charter is not a gift to others, it is a solution for its owners!
- The mission sounds like charity and good deeds for others – rewrite it to sound like the author wrote it for themselves and their peer owners.
- I would break the document with sub-titles that created a headline for the what, how, and why we will get things done:
- Our community and why we will build a CU
- Our mission for our community and our goals for our owners and participants
- Our services today and tomorrow – building relationships that will last through the services we offer
- Our plan to get things started – capital and the ways we will raise it
- Understanding how our consumer owners will interact with our fostering donors
- Where we go from here
- Like to see this rewritten and then maybe even meet with your group and discuss the potential project and tone.
It took me awhile to hit send though. I wondered why they thought a credit union was more a gift for the misguided than a business for people ready to create new solutions and opportunities for themselves. It took me a while to wonder who taught them this? Why did they think this was the right approach? Then it hit me… they got it from our industry. From studying our regulatory approval system, from talking to existing credit union leaders, and from picking up on our sometimes over the top, sanctimonious preaching to the consumer marketplace about what they should do, and not what they can lead us to do for them.
I worry that we have lost our way in defining what a credit union is. If so many people think it is about starting a charitable organization to help people live right instead of the idea that people start credit union cooperatives to build a business, to live, and prosper based on their hopes and insight into what they and their peers need as consumers. I have never heard a CU member say I am here for charity–only that they are here for a deal that a consumer would want, that an owner would be proud of, and to make sure that their community had an option, not a handout.
It’s time to change the narrative that we use to define ourselves. It is time to put the spirit of “investment, adventure, and entrepreneurial energy” back into the manual that is hopefully used by everyday consumers ready to organize and start a CU. Tell me why I’m wrong.