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The Awesomeness of Credit Unions

How credit unions can create a community that have the power to financially empower, educate and protect

Photo of Maddie Wiener
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I recently graduated from college and spent some time looking into various banks that I could join. But, I was really hesitant to join any of the large banks, due to the fact that most of them financially support the coal industry – which accounts for a HUGE amount of global CO2 emissions. As someone that is interested in having the lowest carbon footprint possible, I did not want my money to be used to help finance deforestation, a coal fired power station, fracking for coal seam gas, or other forms of coal mining.

So that is when I started to look into credit unions, and learned that they are great for more than just protecting the environment. As background, there are more than 7,000 credit unions in the country, all of which vary in size, services, and communities. Credit unions differ from banks in that they are not-for-profit organizations that provide service to their members rather than to maximize corporate profits. Credit unions are often community oriented and serve specific local groups with similar values. They have created a communal space where "people help people”. They are designed to directly influence member behavior in terms of smart financial choices, as well as choices that may impact the environment and society.

During my research, I was continually drawn to credit unions because of the community they create, and the positive impact they can have on that group. I found that I would benefit from joining a credit union not only because they uphold the social and environmental values that I was originally searching for, but also because they would provide me with a safe space to become more financially literate and empowered. Andrew described spaces like this in his post “Education, Motivation and Trust”, and I believe that credit unions might have the power to do just the same.

Credit Unions can be a great resource to teach financial education. They create a safe space that is specific to communities’ values and needs -- financially, socially and environmentally. After reading Kathleen’s post about a personal financial experience, I believe credit unions could provide a supportive and educational community for people in similar situations.

CO-OP, which sponsors this challenge, is a community of 3,500 credit unions. How might we make credit unions more available to financially vulnerable communities?

Specifically, how else might credit unions help empower communities to be more financial prepared?

How might we create more safe spaces (like those described in Andrew’s post) that empower, motivate and educate communities?

Photo credit to Creative Commons user Midcheshireman


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Photo of Agata Malkowski

Hi Maddie!

Wonderful post! I recently came across similar issues when looking to open a ROTH IRA. In order to make money faster I would need to play the market aggressively and in markets my morals want no part of it.

To answer your question tho, I think there is something to educating our youth. Pairing credit unions with schools to educate and offer financial education and planning would be ideal. Most youth habits are instilled by the age of 10 - could financial literacy in the education system dive deeper than balancing a check book?

Parental-mimicry is also a major factor to financial literacy. Could we educate parents to make better financial decisions? Could they decisions trickle down to their children?

I look forward to seeing your research develop further!

All the best!


Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Maddie, great reflective post. I realize that I never thought of a bank being able to portray my values and it's great to see that you could find a bank that seems to embody your values (which seem close to mine). I find it amazing that you took time to reflect on your own value system and assume that some banks might be more in line with your values than others. Thanks for opening my eyes!

Agata, I agree with the parental-mimicry and the role of parents in educating children. I am also wondering if we could not imagine that in some cases that children could also educate their parents.
That's a question I raised in one of my research posts and that we've been discussing in the comments:


Photo of Maddie Wiener

I really enjoyed reading Anne Laure's Post - you and Agata both bring up great points about a shared space for both children and parents to learn about financial education. Maybe credit unions are a good place to do this, since they naturally have community values instilled in them. As Agata mentioned in her comment above, I think a wonderful and powerful community could be formed if schools and credit unions were to pair up. Education would be reaching different generations and different members of the family.

How could we get credit unions to become more active in their community and teach financial literacy to young children (and therefore, families too)?

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard

Maddie, great question. Definitely one worth exploring during the ideation phase!

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Awesome post Maddie. Thanks for sharing!
I was directed here from the link that Anne-Laure placed in a comment on her post - the one she links above. Your post really peaked my interest and I learned much from it! It brought to mind Union Settlement, a social service organization in NYC. A Credit Union is part of the greater organization. I had interactions with other departments in the organization when I worked in East Harlem where it is located. It has provided services in this low income community, historically an immigrant community, since 1895. It is part of the Settlement House Movement.
The Union Settlement Credit Union recently merged with the Lower East Side Credit Union. They have a vairety of community services including youth services.
April is National Credit Union Youth Month! They are hosting a "Safari Savings Challenge" for youth this month! Open a savings account with $1. Part of this Safari is an initiative -
“Monkey see, Monkey do” - "Tell your parents about how and what you are saving for and they will follow your steps. Share your Safari Saving Challenge by showing your parents the steps you are taking to save for what you want in the near future." (Seems that this is one way that a program can bring youth into the conversation with their parents - kids influencing parents? interesting discussion you guys are having on this....)
I posted - "PlayMoolah" . A platform developed as a financial education tool/app for children and their parents, and young adults. One of the cofounders was asked in an interview what she learned by co designing with children. She replied that she learned that children inspire their parents in many ways.

Thanks for sharing!

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