Credit unions deserve credit

The opinion expressed by the president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, in the June 23, 2014, edition of The Hill, is worthy of comment, despite it being a stretch to yet find another way for a trade association to criticize the efforts of a cooperative system that in the view of many Americans provides better financial services than the banks Mr. Keating represents.

For decades, many banks have considered credit unions to be a threat to their survival. Each year, these banks have urged Congress to place greater restrictions on credit unions to lessen the ability of credit unions to compete.

ADVERTISEMENT
To put this picture in perspective, let us look at the numbers. As of March 31, 2014, there are 6,491 federally insured credit unions with assets of $1.1 trillion and 6,739 federally insured banks and thrifts with assets of $14.9 trillion. Does anyone, other than Mr. Keating, really believe the bankers lose any sleep at night over what credit unions are doing?

Keating claims credit unions have lost the aim of Congress to “make more available to people of small means credit for provident purposes.” He also says the National Credit Union Administration, the regulator of federal credit unions, should prohibit credit unions from serving individuals who may want to buy a boat and take out “jumbo” mortgages.

Mr. Keating needs to be reminded that when Congress authorized the establishment of credit unions in 1934 lawmakers must have determined banks were not providing financial services to all citizens. And now, 80 years later, this system remains in place and credit unions continue to provide valuable financial services to American families.

There is no denying that not only do people of modest means often like credit unions better, but those who have accumulated savings over the years often prefer them as well. Better service, better rates, lower fees, greater convenience. Who wouldn’t want to use a financial institution like that regardless of what you earn and your financial status? I personally know a number of wealthy bankers who are credit union members.

Unlike some banks that only want high-rollers as customers and prefer making jumbo loans to wealthy individuals, a credit union welcomes everyone who is eligible to join within its particular field of membership.

Have credit unions lost their purpose? I think not. All across this country and throughout many parts of this world, our military credit unions provide outstanding service to men and women in the armed forces. In the inner cities of our nation, credit unions provide financial services not only in commercial locations, but in churches, schools and community centers as well. Are there large credit unions? Absolutely. Do they serve individuals of greater means? They do, but that is a natural progression from being good at what they do. When more people want what you provide, you either ignore their desires or you grow and increase your supply or service.

The credit union philosophy is simple, “not for profit, but for service.”

I always believed credit unions challenged the banking industry to do a better job and that together they could provide our citizens with outstanding financial alternatives. Perhaps rather than criticizing what others do, one’s energies are best used in showing you can do better.

Fryzel is a member of the Board of the National Credit Union Administration and served as its chairman from July, 2008 to August, 2009.