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System-wide cooperation can lead to nationwide impact

A young Black family lounge on some stairs

Credit Union National Association president, Jim NussleJim Nussle, President & CEO, CUNA

A CEO recently told me that credit unions need to talk more about Financial Well-Being for All. We need to be more present, more consistent, to ensure it remains at the forefront of our movement.

I’ll be honest, I was taken aback by this suggestion. I’m not shy about discussing Financial Well-Being for All. Many around me may be tired of hearing about it.

But after a moment, I unpacked the comment and realized what was at its heart; we need to do a better job positioning Financial Well-Being for All not as a project or a program, but as the very lens through which we view our work.

And there’s plenty of work to be done.

As I spoke of financial well-being from the GAC stage back in 2020 (which seems like a dog year ago), economic indicators were quite strong. Yet two thirds of Americans were still struggling.

Then the pandemic hit, and 60 million people in this country racked up even more credit debt. These are people in our communities, our next-door neighbors, and our own families.

The financial health and well-being of our nation is precarious, and those with the least means and resources are increasingly at the greatest risk. That is exactly what our movement exists to rectify.

There’s an old Iowa phrase that I heard from my grandfather. He’d ask: “Are you a bell cow?” In other words, are you somebody that everyone else follows?

Credit unions have an obligation to be that leader – to demonstrate to our peers, our members and communities, and to lawmakers and regulators – that yes, we are leading the way. We are forging the path so that those who are too often overlooked, and underserved, can build prosperity.

The National Credit Union Foundation is an integral partner in this journey. Their ability to corral those of us committed to the cause and identify opportunities for greater cooperation is crystallizing our roadmap for success.

I believe we need to do a better job of identifying and understanding who credit union members truly are; ensuring they are represented in our decision-making. Our membership is increasingly diverse but credit union leadership doesn’t reflect that. This needs to change.

With a deeper understanding of our members, we can leverage our data more effectively. We can identify the most informative metrics for measuring and tracking financial health. Imagine the impact of us sharing that data and corroborating system wide. Together, we can determine best practices, and best practices at scale can deliver incredible results.

But the first step is to confirm that the mission statement above our door is our articulation of Financial Well-Being for All. That the flexibility granted to frontline employees to make small-dollar lending decisions is directly connected to it. That incentive programs that emphasize service over sales are intrinsically connected to it.

That Financial Well-Being for All is not a thing we do. It’s the thing. Always has been.

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