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The Good and Bad News…

The Good and Bad News… about being a Financial Cooperative (ie. a Credit Union)

What’s the difference to Joe if he loses the car to the credit union or the bank? To Joe, there’s probably not a lot. It’s personal, it’s painful, no one seems to understand and he’s angry.

Every now and then I have to take my lumps in the public, I assume from someone whose car we had to repossess or who is in the midst of the collection process. Often there are adjectives included to ensure I know just how mad they are. I get it; but regretfully sometimes the final determination satisfies no one.  The important issue in this case is that a credit union, as a financial cooperative, is obligated to all the membership to take appropriate steps when a borrower can’t make their payments. There’s not much difference than if one individual lent money to another individual.  Well, there are a few differences. The first difference is that there is a group of people, the cooperative, lending the money to Joe and the other difference is that the group has agreed to try to make the loan at the lowest rate and fees possible, because we don’t want Joe using a loan shark and of course the bank is obligated to their stockholder to maximize their profit.

Great Basin members were as hard hit by the recession the last three years as other Northern Nevadans. Many families lost one or both jobs. Difference number three; the cooperative is governed by a board chosen from the group to represent the interests of the group, but also to guide the collection process with the individual borrower to ensure we did everything possible before repossessing the car. In the last three years the credit union modified $4.5 million dollars of loans, both consumer and real estate. Every month the board reviews reports of the modified loans, and of every loan that the cooperative has had to charge-off as a loss. This includes the situation of the borrowers, the efforts of the collection process and whether there were offers of loan modification to try to minimize the loss to the cooperative. Let’s be clear, every loss adversely affects the financial health of the cooperative. While I’m here, difference number four; the board members are all volunteers and cannot be compensated in any manner by law.

So the question might be asked – why repossessions and charged-off loans at all? I might point out the federal regulators and the AICPA requirements here, but let’s focus on the essence of a cooperative. Why should one person pay and the next not? Everyone participates in a cooperative and a central idea is to keep it fair to all the members, all the cooperative’s owners.

Finally, we have some great employees and volunteers at Great Basin and they have done a tremendous job the last three years under the worst of circumstances. Maybe we’re not perfect and we may have had to disappoint some people, but I know what we do here and the efforts we take to be the absolute best financial cooperative – or credit union – that’s possible.


How to Serve Humans

It has been interesting to listen to what little feedback there has been from the banks regarding Bank Transfer Day and the estimated 650,000 accounts that switched to credit unions in October alone. I have heard a couple of times that the banker’s response was that they are really not that concerned as, “Those accounts that left were really the less profitable ones, and we didn’t want them anyway.”

PLEASE… Let me translate for the rest of you that have NOT left your bank, yet. YOU are in that underappreciated elite group that pays the most in fees or have a high loan interest rate. I trust they send a birthday card.

For some reason this made me remember the Twilight Zone episode with the aliens that come to Earth and say they’re here to “serve humans”.  They have a book they share but unfortunately it’s in Martian or whatever. So as the people are filing onto the spaceship for their trip in space, the door is closing and they hear a panicked scream from outside, “Wait, don’t go, it’s a COOKBOOK…”



Group Hug for the Choir

Rather an interesting creation, Bank Transfer Day, this past November 5th. Started by the frustration with her big bank, the owner of a small art gallery in SoCal went viral on her FaceBook and blog, and created a national protest that told people to leave their big banks and go local. Hundreds of thousands moved nationally in October alone. Credit unions were a major beneficiary. We had been seeing stronger checking growth this year but in October it really shifted gears and on protest day Great Basin opened 24 new accounts when normally we would see 5-6 on a Saturday. Taken by itself, not a huge thing but it tells me Northern Nevada is in on the revolt.

Allow me to pause for a second here to give accolades to the world’s greatest staff. We didn’t know what to expect for a Saturday, but we had extra volunteers from all over the credit union step up to ensure we were ready and we even stayed open until 3:00 in the afternoon instead of closing normally at noon. Yeah, that happens a lot at banks too…NOT.

Of course, I’m writing this to the choir. I’m guessing most of you have already made the choice, and it is rewarding to see the media look to credit unions as part of the solution. It is an interesting phenomena, credit unions, not for profit financial cooperatives; really a gift from “The Great Generation” who endured the Great Depression. So it’s kind of exciting to see a new revolt from the people, looking again to belong to a real community financial institution that exists to share local deposits to neighbors who need loans and not to maximize how much they can take from people for the sake of profit to some shareholders. So to the members of the Great Basin choir, whether soprano, alto, tenor or base…pass the word and keep the revolt going. Kinda sounds like the 60’s, brings tears to my eyes.