Throughout the year I’m occasionally asked why co-operatives are important or more specifically, why is a credit union important? Why celebrate Co-op Week or International Credit Union Day (ICU)?
I’m probably asked this because I’ve been a member and an employee of Assiniboine Credit Union (ACU) for little over 18 years, which is nearly 25% of the time ACU has existed. That’s a long time to be a member of anything, so people probably think I’ve learned a few things over that time.
With Co-op week and International Credit Union Day approaching I figured it would be a good time to answer some of these questions.
The simple answer: People come first.
- Co-ops usually operate somewhere that without a co-op business simply wouldn’t exist. Typically “big business” looks at the situation, completes a business case and if they don’t see enough dollar signs to achieve their quarterly earnings target they will not proceed. With a Co-Op, regular people gather together and agree to start the business for the long term betterment of their community. Over time, some co-ops have grown to a point where from a revenue standpoint they are indistinguishable from “big business,” but from one important standpoint they operate very differently: They see the community and people first and dollars second. They don’t lose sight of the dollars, but people come first.
- Credit unions are financial co-operatives (a subsector if you please). Traditionally, credit unions were formed by a group of people that were excluded from the financial system by the big banks for a variety of reasons, not wealthy enough, don’t live in the right area, farmers, small business people, wrong occupation, certain visible or religious minorities, etc. That was known as the “closed bond era,” where all credit unions were only open to the specific group that founded them. Over the years most, but not all, credit unions including ACU became “open bond,” which means they accept everyone for membership.
Why is this applicable today? Read or watch the news, especially from south of the border.
Every era has its financially advantaged people/entities (let’s call them “Haves”) and financially disadvantaged groups of people/entities (let’s call them “Have Nots.”).
It’s up to the “Haves” to say “The Have Nots are welcome here,” because the “Have Nots,” can’t do it themselves. (They are by definition, “Have Nots”)
Eventually “Big Business” will catch on and include the current “Have Nots,” but inevitably end up excluding another group. Co-Ops and credit unions don’t do this, they have been people-focused for a very long time.
Many ACU members are “Haves” that by doing business with ACU are opening the door to many “Have Nots” to be welcomed and included. ACU and its members have a proud history of including those that other financial institutions exclude.
So, why celebrate?
Co-op Week is a uniquely Canadian phenomenon and has been celebrated nationally since 1982. It is the opportunity for Canadian co-operative and credit union members to celebrate the fact that they have collectively helped to build Canada. Co-op Week is recognition of our continuing contributions at home and abroad. Co-op Week is always celebrated during the same week as International Credit Union Day, which is the third Thursday in October of each year since 1948.
International Credit Union (ICU) Day celebrates the spirit of the global credit union movement. The day is recognized to reflect upon the credit union movement’s history, promote its achievements, recognize the hard work and share member experiences. The ultimate goal is to raise awareness about the great work that credit unions are doing around the world, and give members the opportunity to get more engaged.
Celebrate with us!
At ACU, we’re celebrating ICU Day at all of our branch locations. Some of which will have board members in attendance to talk about credit union values and answer any questions members or the public may have, plus there will be cookies provided by the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Co.
International Credit Union Day | October 19
Co-op Week | October 15 -21