Editor's note: Marcus Rhymer recently attended the 2015 Principles & Philosophy Conference as the CUaware Scholarship winner. Marcus recaps his experience and takeaways at the conference in this guest post.
This year I was given the opportunity to attend the 2015 Principles and Philosophy Conference in Greenville, South Carolina. This opportunity was provided to me through a scholarship by CUaware. Forty-four others from Carolina Credit Unions joined me for this engaging two day journey.
While this conference had many components of a traditional conference format, a few things differed. This conference became a deep dive into the foundation of the Credit Union Principles and Philosophies which included full engagement from all participants. Jeff Hardin of the Carolinas Credit Union League and Amy Gravitte from Coastal FCU, along with many others members of the core committee led the discussion. However, primarily smaller groups, seated at individual tables, shared their experiences and ideas to enhance our overall experience in world of Credit Union Principles and Philosophies.
My experience at the conference may have differed from others at this conference. I have been in the credit union industry for 15 years and attended this conference to get an idea as to how this could benefit our staff. The conference more than accomplished this. I found it especially beneficial for credit union employees who are new to the movement. Attendees will be fully immersed in the world of credit union principles and philosophy. It is also a great refresher for those of us who have been in the industry for some time. Here are ten takeaways from the 2015 Principles and Philosophy Conference:
10. Downtown Greenville is a wonderful city to host this conference. Even though we experienced abundant rain during our two day stay at the conference, it did not stop us from enjoying some excellent dining and some great views. We were very fortunate to have Greenville historian, John Nolan, give us the history and background of the city as well as the insights on the future of Greenville. The location of the hotel and conference center in relation to downtown dining and attractions makes this a very walk-able conference. Everything is convenient, rain or shine!
9. The Seven Cooperative Principles for Credit Unions: Personal Introductions and a discussion of each principle began our agenda. What are the seven principles? Are some more obvious than others? Can we still follow all seven principles in today’s environment? Can we manage these principles better? Each table was able to examine and discuss a particular principle in-depth and share the analysis with the group.
8. Hats, Wigs, and Mustaches: The core committee took our soon to be Credit Union Principles and Philosophy experts on a journey through time. The goal of this role-playing experiment was to take us through the history of cooperatives and credit unions. Where have we been and where are we going? Our movement has had many champions along the way: The Rochdale Weavers in England, an early cooperative founded in 1844; Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, who founded the first rural credit union in Germany; and Alphonse Desjardins who started the first United States Credit Union in New Hampshire. Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Edward Filene, whose legacy still has a major footprint in American business; and Dora Maxwell, who unfathomably started 120 credit unions in six months, are among these pioneers on the Mount Rushmore of Credit Unions. They each had the vision and the passion to provide our movement with the inspiration to serve our members.
7. Thought Provocation: While understanding and respecting our history, our group posed a question early in this conference. Do we need to change? The credit union industry is changing based upon increasing regulatory concern, compliance, and many other factors. As a group, we wondered do we still need to embrace each and every principle? Can we embrace these principles and stay competitive? Do we need to modify any of these principles to fit today’s increased regulatory environment? We opted to continue our two day journey and re-address this important question after our agenda was complete.
6. The Foundation Remains: “People Helping People”. “Not for Profit but for Service”. The Credit Union philosophy remains the same. The principles that guided the Rochdale Weavers in 1844 are the same principles that we as financial cooperatives use today: Voluntary Membership, Democratic Member Control, Members’ Economic Participation, Autonomy and Independence, Education-Training-and-Information, Cooperation Among Cooperatives, and Concern for Community. We must stay true to our principles. It is of utmost importance that our management teams and employees understand and practice these principles. These seven principles are what make us different! We must continue to differentiate ourselves to our members so they will understand why they chose us, why they trust us, and why it’s in their best interest to be part of a financial cooperative.
5. Challenges: We must overcome perceptions. Many potential members believe a credit union is not convenient. A credit union won’t have the products and services for my banking needs. I can’t join a credit union because of membership restrictions or SEG affiliation. These misconceptions must be addressed and overcome to increase our membership. We as credit unions know these potential member perceptions to be untrue. It’s up to us to inform our communities that we are convenient, we do offer everything they need, and they most likely can join our credit union! We must educate potential members on the benefits a being a member of a financial cooperative.
4. FaceTime: Our group had the opportunity for an enlightening FaceTime experience with Mike Beall, who is a political activist in the credit union movement. During our Face Time session, he shared many valuable experiences regarding credit union legislation through his years in the movement. He is passionate about working with credit unions.
3. Panel Discussion: The Movement is Worldwide, The Movement is Local: Being a history buff, I really enjoyed this session of the conference. Story Telling Time! Actually it was much more than that but this session had that kind of atmosphere. From our core committee, Terri Hendrix, Deb McLean, and Sandy Glasson shared their experiences from the beginning of their credit union careers until today. Terri Hendrix took us from Edinburgh, Scotland to Brazil and into Africa during her experiences abroad with the World Council of Credit Unions. Deb McLean talked about her passion in helping the Latino community set up a safe place to save and borrow money. She discussed the obstacles she overcame in order to help the Latino community in North Carolina go through the process of setting up credit unions in a difficult regulatory environment. Sandy Glasson led us through her 37 year journey from a small Air Force Base credit union in Georgia to her current position at Coastal FCU in Raleigh, North Carolina. These discussions spanned the spectrum from the World Council all the way back to the member.
2. The Winds of Change: As we journeyed through the “Not for Profit, But for Service” learning map, we examined the past, present, and looked towards the future. The movement and changes are undoubtedly noticeable. During our past, many business entities were separate and stayed within their particular mission or scope of service. However, in today’s market, we have large banks, insurance companies, auto dealerships, and brokerage firms among others trying to do what we do. We also have large retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Apple, and PayPal operating outside of a retail model and offering some type of products and services that credit unions and small community banks offer. Once we navigated this map, we of course learn that these challenges can be met through our operating principles. We just need to put these principles at the forefront of our future plan.
1. “The Onion It’s all about the Member: When we begin to peel back the layers of the Cooperation Among Cooperatives Onion, we will find that at the core is our membership. From the layers of the World Council, CUNA, State Leagues, Local Chapters, and the Credit Union; the very reason for every layer comes back to our members. Looking back at our initial thought provocation, one thing is crystal clear. While we must evolve with the changing environment, we certainly do not need to change our principles. In fact, credit unions must be even more engaged in practicing these principles to guide our financial cooperatives into the future. It’s what made us better in the beginning. It’s what will make us better in the future.
Marcus Rhymer serves as the indirect lending manager at Latitude 32 Credit Union in Charleston. He is a 2000 graduate of East Tennessee State University and is a Life Member of the ETSU Alumni Association. In addition to his role at the credit union, Marcus is a 2015 graduate of the Southeast CUNA Management School, is actively engaged with the local Lowcountry CUaware Council, and serves as the secretary of the Lowcountry Chapter of Credit Unions. Marcus and his wife Kristen have a four-year-old named Zach.