The Credit Union Difference: A Mission We Can All Support

By Debra Schwartz, NAFCU Board Chair

Debra Schwartz, NAFCU Board Chair

In turbulent times, that’s when credit unions’ true colors show. Our industry was created on a sense of community, to provide financial support and stability to our neighbors and coworkers in need. For more than 100 years, we’ve continued to grow our membership across the U.S. — reaching those in underserved communities — because we recognize that access to safe, affordable financial products creates pathways to make dreams a reality. This is a message that resonates across ideologies. Credit unions are here for the betterment of our members and communities.

While our mission is our North Star, our ability to provide savings, lines of credit and financial management assistance to our members is tied to legislation and regulation. Yes, the financial services industry needs appropriate oversight to ensure institutions are acting in good faith. But, when rules are put in place that overly burden good actors, the negative implications can trickle down to affect our members, limiting the products and services we provide to them.

The impact the federal government has on credit unions is exactly why NAFCU was founded. The association is the industry’s voice at the federal level, ensuring policymakers consider our unique structure and mission — which differ significantly from that of profit-seeking banks and others in the financial services space — and understand our deep connections within our communities.

We take seriously the trust our member credit unions place in our representation of them. We gather direct feedback on issues impacting the industry and possible solutions to advocate effectively. We identify lawmakers and regulators who embody credit union values, champion our issues and can help us build broad support on Capitol Hill. This will be critical in the 117th Congress — although Democrats hold the majority in both the House and Senate, close margins mean bipartisan measures are the ones that will be pursued. This puts NAFCU and credit unions in a strong position to achieve wins.

Our country has faced serious crises over the past year that will take time to heal from and overcome. But throughout our history, credit unions have consistently proven that we will be there for our members and help our communities build brighter futures — through the services we offer and our philanthropic efforts.

Look back at our growth after the enactment of the Federal Credit Union Act. This critical piece of legislation was enacted during the Great Depression — a time when millions of Americans became unemployed. When banks abandoned these people in need, it was credit unions that offered a financial lifeline.

The 2008 financial crisis was no different. Banks pulled back on their lending and left consumers behind; credit unions stepped up to fill the gaps. But in the aftermath of the crisis, the laws and regulations enacted to crack down on the risky behaviors that contributed to it were overextended, putting costly compliance burdens on good actors. NAFCU has been fighting to rollback these onerous regulations that stifle credit union growth and we have made good progress.

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact on our economy highlights the need for additional regulatory relief. It has also made clear the need to reach Americans that are falling behind, often in underserved, minority, and low-income communities.

As we continue advocating in Washington on behalf of the industry, know that we will make clear the credit union difference. Our industry’s priority has always been our members and reaching those in need of financial services. Know that NAFCU’s priority will be attaining the regulatory and legislative changes to do so, including related to member business lending, field of membership reforms, and modernization of outdated rules.

I am proud to serve the credit union industry because of what it stands for. I am confident in our ability to garner support for our initiatives as our country looks to move toward a brighter future for all.

Debra Schwartz is president and CEO of Mission Federal Credit Union in San Diego.