Opinion Column

Take it in stride

Your co-op and credit unions are not grocery stores and banks. They are principles and movements that in many ways defend members from an exclusively profit driven world and grant us the ability to offer care and opportunity to one another.
A return to implementing this mission would be a stride worth taking.

Your co-op and credit unions are not grocery stores and banks. They are principles and movements that in many ways defend members from an exclusively profit driven world and grant us the ability to offer care and opportunity to one another. A return to implementing this mission would be a stride worth taking.

Co-ops and credit unions have a long and distinguished history.
This history has always had a character of separate and apart from the mainstream. A distinction of people joining together, pooling resources and sharing in an endeavour that stood outside the traditional big business and big bank models.
Often this separateness occurred because both big banks and big business deserted or declined to enter markets even when demand was evident and service often a desperate need for members. Joining a co-op or a credit union was not just signing a membership application, it was a commitment to a movement and the fellow members of that movement.
The student based food co-op at the University of Winnipeg was a response to a student body trying to survive education, rent and living expenses that chronically exceeded cash flow. The membership was not a passive once only admission to the co-op. Purchasing and pick up was once every two weeks. During the week, members dealt with the wholesalers and producers, found the best deals, arranged purchase and pick up or delivery for distribution day. The operations were full of sweat equity. Members showed up to manage the full range of accounting, purchasing, sorting, boxing, clean up and repeat every two weeks. The enterprise was a movement and belief system far more than a grocery store.
Kids always know when the wheels have fallen off and whispered quiet conversations occur while they play in the rooms to which they have been sent. Poverty, poor management and little future, translate easily into housing issues and no access to any longer term funding that is no normalized in many households. Surmounting the risk factors and the truth of dysfunctional households in not the arena of major banks but can be accomplished sometimes by credit unions. The guarantee of grandparents cosigning, and access to their extended family membership in a work place, employee founded credit union kept a roof over the children’s heads at least three times and the wolf from the door on countless smaller issues over the years.
This was the purpose of the credit union movement, creating access to capital and lending for groups that would typically have no such access and little hope of gaining access. Pooling money as a group provided a system that traditionally would not be granted; gave safety to savings and some services; and offered the possibility of longer term capital financing. All of this happened because members shared with one another. Deposits that exceeded the needs of the holder become available for other members with a return that satisfies all and builds equity in the union as whole.
This was not a bank and was not treated, by regulators, as other banks. At a personal level participants were escaping the banking world and seeking the close personal relationships of a cooperative. They expected and got the relationship of owners and investors. Service was delivered to a friend and member, whatever counter you walked up to, and assistance was judged on that personal relationship as much as the legitimate consideration of wise lending practices. Decisions were always made within a context of members helping members and decisions made and delivered in the community, not at the level of the now neutered local banks delivering the edicts of Toronto desks.
How sad and unfortunate that boards, CEOs, and some members of credit unions now require the heavy hand of the federal government to remind them of their mission to not be a bank but to be a union serving members for the betterment of members. The empire building justified by boards and CEOs, who see their role as competing with banks has taken on the tone of funeral dirge for the credit union movement, and the great strides proclaimed are more the processional to the grave site than the member mission of this movement.
Your co-op and credit unions are not grocery stores and banks. They are principles and movements that in many ways defend members from an exclusively profit driven world and grant us the ability to offer care and opportunity to one another.
A return to implementing this mission would be a stride worth taking.

Al Collins



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