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Guest Post: The Fifth Principle – Education, Training and Information – by Terri Hendrix, SC Telco FCU

Posted By Jeff Hardin, Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Principle Five: Education, training, and information. Credit unions provide financial education to their members as well as the communities they serve.

(Editor’s note: SC Telco FCU Community Relations Manager Terri Hendrix recently traveled to Brazil as part of the World Council of Credit Unions’ International CU Leadership Program (ICULP). Hendrix shares her key takeaways from this visit, which took place January 13-24, 2014 at numerous SICREDI credit union locations in the states of Rio Grande do Sul and Parana, Brazil.)

Terri Hendrix (far left) of SC Telco FCU is pictured with Brazilian & US credit union representatives during her recent visit to Sicredi Central, Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.
Participating in World Council of Credit Unions’ International Credit Union Leadership Program exchange with Brazil opened my eyes to the value of providing cooperative education and training to members.

In Brazil, credit unions view themselves as cooperatives first and financial institutions second. For example, after joining each member is invited back to the branch for an orientation on cooperative principles and is versed on the responsibilities of being a credit union member (and not just products/services/rates of the credit union).

After the orientation, if the member likes this ‘cooperative’ method and wants further involvement, they can sign up for additional courses that prepare them to serve as nuclei coordinators. These coordinators share information from the management and board throughout the membership base, and provide feedback to credit union management. Depending on the size of the credit union, a nuclei coordinator group could have as many as 800 or 900 members.

The nuclei coordinators take their tasks very seriously. Despite term limits for this volunteer position, credit unions have a steady pipeline of educated members willing to serve. Credit unions in Brazil don’t neglect the children either. They are in hundreds of classrooms each year teaching the next generation the benefits of exercising the cooperative principles.

This sounds like a really good idea, one that we should implement immediately. But then other thoughts began to creep in: ‘Why would we want to educate our members on what a cooperative is?, ’ and ‘Would members accept the responsibility of ownership in the credit cooperative?’

Those are interesting questions, but I wonder what our credit union system be like if we all concentrated on educating members regarding the rights and privileges of cooperative ownership? It seems to me one benefit would be a more engaged membership when it comes to legislative threats. Members who understood what a cooperative is and how it is different would be lighting up the phones, email, Twitter and Facebook demanding THEIR cooperative not be federally taxed! Our efforts nationally would be enhanced 10-fold!

This education can also help with strategic planning and direction. Wouldn’t it be easier for credit union boards and management to outline a strategic path when the membership itself has communicated upwards what they need and want? Members would better understand what the credit union is capable of offering to them in the form of services and products. And don’t forget individual member growth and advancement because of this sense of duty to learn and make better financial choices for themselves and their families. A strong, knowledgeable membership base can only make the credit union itself stronger.

Many credit unions do an excellent job of educating and informing their members, but we need to teach the cooperative principles – to members and non-members alike. Our young people need to know there is a better alternative for financial services, one that puts them in the driver’s seat and offers a fair shake in return for making a commitment to cooperate.

Credit unions that live by this principal of cooperative education and expect members to take ownership seriously will in my view be the better for it. Maybe like the Brazilians we need to say, "A vida é melhor quando é cooperativa”Life is better when we cooperate.

Growing up in the rural northwestern corner of Spartanburg County, Terri learned at an early age the positive impact that credit unions could have on the average working family. Her mother, an industrial nurse at the local carpet plant, was a member of the credit union. Through the years this small, local credit union financed her first car, made college expenses manageable through savings, and gave her a solid financial foundation on which to build a life.

Since those early years, she has spent most of her adult life promoting the benefits of credit union membership. In addition to her job duties on the state and local level to promote SC Telco in a positive image, Terri, a Credit Union Development Educator/ International Credit Union Development Educator has participated in the World Council of Credit Unions' International Credit Union Leadership Program in Brazil; served as a technical adviser to credit societies in Malawi, Africa, and hosted credit union interns from Latvia, Lithuania and the Dominican Republic. Terri is also a credit union advocate, serving on the Governmental Affairs Committee for the Carolinas CU League. She also serves as the CULAC trustee for South Carolina.

Tags:  Cooperation  Principle Five  SC Telco FCU  World Council of Credit Unions 

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