By Angi Christensen Harben
This story originally ran in Georgia Trend
Not everybody knows exactly what makes a credit union unique or why credit unions are such a great choice for consumers. Even with 2.1 million memberships in Georgia, credit unions are still often lumped in with banks in the public consciousness. This is understandable, since credit unions offer services like personal and business accounts, credit cards and loans.
But make no mistake. There are significant differences.
Most of these differences revolve around their structure and purpose. Banks are corporate entities that exist to deliver profits to their shareholders. Credit unions are member-owned, not-for-profit cooperatives. They exist solely to help people afford life.
Once one fully understands the business model of a credit union, and how that model differs from other players in the financial services marketplace, other things start to come into sharper focus.
It becomes clear why the credit union industry not only leads all customer service surveys among financial service providers, but is in the top 25 in customer service across ALL industries. It makes sense that credit unions were not among the bad actors in the recession that gripped the country in 2008 and 2009. So it should be no surprise that while so many banks were failing from the fallout, credit unions were continuing to serve members while enjoying steady increases in membership.
Because, as already noted, credit unions help people afford life.
Of course, that means different things to different people.
To a member of MidSouth Community Federal Credit Union, it meant reliable transportation. But not the kind that usually comes to mind.
Member Service Representative Carol Goss was approached by a member about a loan for a bicycle. The long-term member has an intellectual disability and can’t get a driver’s license. His social security benefits are directly deposited into his account, and he had to walk or pay for a cab to go anywhere, including the credit union to withdraw money from his account.
Goss helped him apply for that loan for a bike – and all the accessories he needed.
“I was in one Saturday morning and he came into my office with his new bike to show me how nice it was,” said Goss. “He now comes and parks his bike right in front and comes in to see us every time he is out riding it. It was such a blessing to see him not have to walk everywhere he goes. He is part of our little Milledgeville family. He loves all the staff here, and tells us every time he comes in. He is a blessing to all of us.”
To a member of HALLCO Community Credit Union in Gainesville, it meant creating a memory with her husband before his declining health forever robbed them of the opportunity.
Her husband had been diagnosed with a progressive form of dementia. They had always wanted to visit Key West, and if they didn’t do it soon, it wasn’t going to happen. In the spring she turned to her credit union, where she and her husband had been members for more than 25 years. She requested an increase in her personal loan, hoping to borrow enough money to take the trip while he was still able to travel.
Their credit wasn’t great. It wasn’t even good. They had dealt with health issues. He’d had a job loss. They filed for bankruptcy. On paper, they didn’t look like good candidates for a loan increase.
But the credit union looked at the whole picture. In addition to their status as long-time members, the wife had worked for the same employer for almost 30 years. And they had always met their payment obligations to the credit union.
“Sometimes there are opportunities that present themselves where we can literally influence someone’s life in a meaningful way,” said Sherry Hutchison, Executive Vice President at HALLCO Community Credit Union. “After looking at the whole picture, we knew that this trip to Key West could give these long-time, dedicated members something that they desperately desired. THAT is the Credit Union difference, sometimes the whole story is much more important than one number. It’s helping our community – helping our people.”
There are many things that make credit unions the best choice for consumers. But it’s not necessary to remember all the details about what sets credit unions apart. The most important thing to remember is that credit unions help people afford life.