Saturday, December 8, 2012

Time Banks: A Powerful Tool for Building Social Capital in Credit Unions and Cooperatives?

As I've discussed previously in greater detail, the strength of the sense of community that members experience in their credit union/co-op has a huge impact on their level of identification with the organization. This level is important because, the more that members internalize the fact that they are member-owners of an organization rather than its customers, the more their skills, energy, and relationships can be mobilized in support of their co-op's goals and interests. For example, a member who barely identifies with his or her co-op will be much less likely to, say, contact his or her Congressional delegation to encourage them to support Member Business Lending legislation than a member who has a clear sense of ownership of, and belonging to, the organization.

As such, I believe that one of the most important challenges facing contemporary credit unionists is the development of methods by which the collapse in the social capital that accompanied the post-1969 trend of credit union professionalization can be reversed. In the above-linked essay I proposed one strategy: democratizing community giving. In this piece I will propose a second, parallel opportunity: time banking (see the below video for a brief introduction to the concept).

I made this connection at the Vermont New Economy Conference last week, when, after the Cooperative Vermont convergence, I decided on a whim to attend the session on time banking. I'd heard of the concept before, but had never really given the model much thought. Happily, the presentation and subsequent discussion were extremely illuminating, and it quickly became apparent to me that time banks could be a powerful tool for strengthening the web of members' social inter-relations (i.e., social capital) within a cooperative organization.

Practically, a co-op/credit union time bank could work as follows. Using one of several existing open-source platforms, the organization would set up a time bank on a section of its website and create accounts for all of its members. Members would then have the opportunity to post both services they'd be willing to perform, as well as things they need done, and they would be able to use the site to keep track of how many hours they'd given to, and received from, others. As all of the participants would be co-op/credit union members and the system's infrastructure would be administered by the institution, every helping act facilitated by the time-bank would thus serve to increase the salience of the participating members' relationship with their co-op, while also increasing the organization's overall social capital by fostering new intra-membership relationships that had not previously existed.

In any case, the proof will be in the pudding; at the end of the session, a group of folks from my town got together and decided to develop a proposal to attempt to implement such a system through one of our local cooperative organizations. We'll be pitching it to the board on the 17th, so keep your eye out for updates as the project progresses!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Artifact: New Jersey Credit Union League "Little Man" Glass

Knowing my love of all things credit union, my partner recently went on Etsy to find me a birthday present. After a bit of browsing, she stumbled upon a New Jersey Credit Union League glass that some crafty person had turned into a scented candle. Probably made in the 1960s or before (since the "Little Man with the Umbrella" was retired as an official logo in the middle of that decade), the glass is a nifty window into the past, and I'm looking forward to using it to toast the memory of Bergengren once the candle is kaput...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

North America's First Credit Union: Reflections on a Visit to the Maison Alphonse Desjardins

Ever since I first became interested in the history of the credit union movement, I've wanted to visit Levis, a suburb of Quebec City and home of the very first credit union in North America. Founded by Alphonse Desjardins in his home as the Caisse Populaire de Levis in 1900, the model pioneered in Quebec quickly spread and was instrumental in the establishment of the American movement.

However, in American historiography, the French Canadian element of the credit union story is treated as something of a prologue, and tends to conclude with Desjardins' meeting with, and inspiration of, Edward Filene in 1908. After that moment, the focus of the dominant narrative shifts to the work of the Filene / Bergengren team in the United States. While their story is vitally important to understanding the nature of credit unionism in the US, I've been quite curious to learn more about the work, life, and legacy of Desjardins.

Happily, I got just that chance during a recent family vacation to Quebec City, when I was able to convince my parents and partner (with promises of micro-brews and chocolate) to accompany me on a ferry ride across the St. Lawrence to Levis. The town itself, situated at the top of a steep cliff, has long been a working-class suburb of the provincial capital and, after climbing the long set of stairs leading up from the ferry dock, we headed towards the steeple of the Catholic church.

The stately white house's location at the edge of the church green was clearly convenient for members whose common bond was the parish, and the building is now prominently marked with a sign identifying it as "Maison Alphonse Desjardin." When we arrived, we were greeted at the door by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable bi-lingual docent named Patrick Lafrance, who took us on the (free) tour as soon as we arrived.

The house itself has been restored, thanks to the financial support of the Desjardins Caisse Populaire federation, to how it would have looked in 1906, and our guide mixed a great deal of fascinating Quebec social history into the tour, including a discussion of the distribution of electric lamps in the house (electricity was put first in rooms that could be seen from the street) and the black cross hanging in the kitchen (a symbol of the Catholic temperance movement, of which Desjardins was a supporter). Many of the artifacts in the house were original, and in each room our guide filled us in on the origins, functions, and social meaning of a great diversity of items, from cutlery to furniture to wallpaper.

The First CU Office!
After touring the other rooms in the house, through which the social, economic, and cultural context of North America's first credit union was established, our final stop was the small office out of which Desjardins and his wife, Dorimene, ran the Caisse Populaire de Levis in its formative years. Our guide made a point to emphasize how critical Dorimene was to its success, since Alphonse's job as the French language reporter for the Canadian Parliament meant he lived six months out of the year in Ottawa. As a result, Dorimene was primarily responsible for the successful operation of the Caisse for long periods of time, and she is now remembered as its co-founder.

Toking for Economic Democracy?
On the original desk sits the original ledger-book, a handsome, leather-bound volume that covers the years 1901-1908. Also heavily present in the office (and scattered around other parts of the house as well) are numerous pipes. According to our guide, it is believed that Desjardins bought himself a pipe for each Caisse he helped successfully found, which was well in excess of one hundred. Many of the books in the space are also original, although his correspondence has been moved to the archives of the Desjardins federation (which is also in Levis).

After thanking Patrick, purchasing pretty much everything available in the gift shop, and getting some amazing chocolate-dipped ice-cream at Chocolat Favoris, a shop a couple blocks from the museum, we hopped on the ferry and returned to Quebec City. However, leaving Levis did not mean our encounters with Desjardins' legacy were over; rather, unlike the American credit union pioneers, he has achieved a significant and recognizable place in Quebec's historical consciousness.

Fancy seeing you here...
The first real indication of this came as we walked through the streets of the old city from the Ferry back to our hotel. En route, we encountered an enormous, multi-story mural portraying historically important people from various eras on the streets of Quebec. It was quite the spectacle, so we stopped for a few minutes to take it in. As we examined it, we suddenly noticed a familiar face, and went over to look at the guide. Sure enough, Alphonse Desjardins was standing next to Samuel de Champlain, the French explorer widely credited as one of the founders of Quebec. In an American context, this would be like seeing Edward Filene or Roy Bergengren portrayed in a mural as a figure of equivalent importance to Lewis and Clark or George Washington.

This sense of the prominent place of Desjardins and the caisses populaires in the historical identity of Quebec was further confirmed the following day when we visited the Quebec history exhibit at the Museum of Civilization. In an exhibit whose subject stretched from the indigenous pre-history of the First Nations to the recent near secession from Canada, fully half of the display on the development of banking in Quebec was focused on the caisse populaire movement (including an original teller counter, sample checks, passbooks, ledgers, etc.), and visitors could listen to an audio version of one of Desjardins' speeches.

While I learned a great deal about the history of the Quebec credit union movement and Desjardins in particular, the biggest revelation to me from my journey was the weight given to the man and movement in the popular understanding of the province's history. In the United States, credit union history can hardly command a footnote in obscure academic journals, while, in Quebec, the movement's founder can be found painted larger than life in public murals and is well featured in the province's most prestigious history museum. Why the difference?

While there is much in-depth comparative work to be done, I think the relative historical prominence of the two societies' cooperative banking movements can be attributed to two major factors. First, the caisse populaire movement in Quebec was given nationalist meaning by many Francophone people itching under the domination of Anglophones. As the first Canadian banks were owned by the English elite and tended to put those interests above the interests of more working-class Francophone Quebecers, the caisses populaires were not simply ways for working class people to obtain credit, but they were also understood to be building a francophone financial system that could challenge the economic hegemony of Anglophone elites. Add to that the early movement's deep ties to the Catholic Church, which was a core Francophone institution (Anglo elites tended to be Protestant), and it is easy to see how credit unions in Quebec have gained historical importance due to their connection to one of the province's most long-running and central social tensions.

Second, it seems that the Quebec movement has promoted its historical importance in a much more intentional and strategic way than has the American Credit Union movement. Where the American movement's history museum was founded only recently, and is so woefully underfunded that its director spends much of her time doing financial, rather than historical, education, the Mouvement Desjardins has been solidly and consistently promoting its history for decades. Not only is their museum well funded enough to have full-time docents available to greet all comers, but they also employ two full-time historians whose research on Desjardins and the movement have yielded numerous resources both scholarly and popular (including comics books on Desjardins in both French and English). Without similar institutional support for their history, American public understanding of the deeply meaningful contributions credit unions have made to our society is virtually non-existent, and our movement's public standing is thereby substantially lessened.

In sum, I highly recommend a visit to the Maison Alphonse Desjardins, should you ever get the chance. Not only does it leave its visitors with a deeply enriched understanding of the origins of the North American credit union movement, but it also demonstrates the opportunities that can be cultivated when a movement decides to take the task of stewarding its legacy seriously.

The view from Levis ain't bad, either... All photos courtesy of Allison Curran

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Roy Cropp and the Lawrence Educators Credit Union

Though my professional interest in the history and organizational dynamics of credit unions developed later in my life, my first awareness of the existence of the cooperative institutions was the result of my paternal grandfather, Roy Cropp. A high school guidance counselor by profession, Roy spent several decades as the part-time manager of the Lawrence Educators Credit Union of Lawrence, Kansas, and his going out to work in the office several nights a week was a consistent element of my father's childhood. Since becoming interested in credit union history, I've been meaning to sit down with my grandfather and discuss his experience as a credit unionist, and my recent trip to Kansas presented just that opportunity.

Roy and Matt at the entrance of the original LECU
As with many credit union people of his generation, Roy Cropp became involved in the movement through his work. Having grown up on a Kansas farm during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, he began his career at Lawrence High School in 1954 teaching vocational agricultural technology while simultaneously working on his masters degree in guidance and counselling. He was offered a job as a guidance counselor at LHS when he finished his degree in 1957, and he continued in that post until his retirement in 1990.

The office was on the second floor
A few years later, the Lawrence Educators Credit Union was founded to promote thrift and make credit available to the teachers of Lawrence's school system. The district provided the credit union with some office space on the second floor of the administrative building adjacent to LHS, and members would stop by to conduct their business from 4-6pm on Mondays and Wednesdays.

After five years of service to the credit union, its first manager retired, and the board approached Roy to ask if he'd take over. He agreed, but later recalled to me that he often regretted the decision during the first two years of his tenure. The previous manager had left the organization mired in debt, and Roy's first major challenge was getting the LECU back in the black. With some careful financial management, he was able to retire the debts within a few years, and he pledged to never again have the credit union borrow money. That conservative position sometimes put him at odds with the central credit union, which encouraged institutions with more loan demand than deposits to borrow to make up the difference, but Roy held firm and the LECU only lent from deposits for the whole of Roy's time as manager.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Edward Filene Speaks to the Radical Purpose of Credit Unionism

Edward Filene
Timely excerpt from an article by credit union pioneer Edward Filene on page 7 of the February, 1936 issue of The Credit Union Bridge (now Credit Union Magazine) entitled "Of the People, By the People and For the People":

...But do the Credit Unionists of America recognize their own historic part in this never-ending movement toward true democracy? Toward the liberation of humanity, and its rise to yet undreamed of heights, not by destroying great and useful powers which are used to oppress it, but by discovering how to use those powers for the common good.

As we celebrate the birthdays of Washington and of Lincoln, it is my hope that Credit Unionists at least will not be content with the mere recital of victories won. These are the two greatest names in our National history; but they are great because they dared to look forward, and it is dishonoring, not honoring such names, to celebrate their birthdays merely by looking back.

May each of us Credit Unionists remember, then, that he is not merely one of a little local group, which has discovered a convenient way of meeting certain little credit problems. We are enlisted units, rather, in a great and growing army of liberation, destined not to destroy the money power or even quarrel with it, but to discover how this power which necessarily controls the lives of people in this machine age may be used most effectively by the people for the people's interests.

To discover that, it was necessary to begin with the little local circle. Until we learned the first lessons, we could not go into the higher grades. But money is power only when it is used. To use it most effectively, we must use it constantly; and as our resources grow, we must learn how to deploy them in ever greater and more comprehensive ways. ...

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fighting for Credit Union Democracy!

Greetings dear readers! First off, I'd like to apologize for my lack of recent postings. The next big project on the horizon for this blog is to methodically read and review the massive pile of Credit Union Bridge issues of which I recently became the proud owner.

However, for the last month, that effort has been sidelined by developments in my increasingly surreal attempt to run for the board of directors of my credit union, Vermont Federal, which is looking like it might end up in legal action due to shenanigans on the part of the incumbent board. If you're interested in all of the nitty gritty details, check out the VFCU Members Assembly blog. If you're waiting for some fresh credit union history posts, the vote will take place on June 7th, after which I'll start into the Bridge project in earnest.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Vermont Credit Union History, 1935-2012

Since last May, one project that has been constantly bubbling along in the background for me has been a brief history of the organized credit union movement in Vermont commissioned by the Association of Vermont Credit Unions. While the project still has some pieces to move into place (we want to create a Vermont CU history wiki that into which all of the credit unions in the state can plug their own histories), the core, stand-alone history is finally complete! If you'd like to check it out, the PDF version is here, and a bare-bones in-browser version can be found here. Reflections and critiques are of course most welcome in the comments section!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

America's First Credit Union Periodical: The Bridge

First edited together as a small newsletter in June of 1924 by Roy Bergengren, the Credit Union Bridge served as the movement's primary "journal of record" for decades before it became the present Credit Union Magazine. In that time, the Bridge was both a clearing-house for practical information about how to run a credit union in addition to being a forum in which early credit unionists in the United States and Canada debated the direction of the movement.

Needless to say, such a publication is an incredibly rich and useful primary source for anyone interested in the history of credit unions, and it had long been a dream of mine to travel to the CUNA archives in Madison, WI and spend a week or two reading as many back issues as I possibly could. Therefore, I was floored when, a few weeks ago, Jeremiah Cahill, the Associate Editor of Credit Union Magazine, sent me an email inquiring whether I'd be interested in an almost complete set of issues stretching from the mid-1930s to the end of 1962. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity, and last week I came home to two heavy boxes sitting on my front stoop filled with bound volumes of the Bridge!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Coming Attraction: Credit Union History Since 1970

Although Ian MacPherson's 1999 book on the development of the global credit union movement partially bridges the gap, one of the most gaping holes in contemporary credit union historiography has been the lack of a synthetic treatment of the American movement's recent history. While Moody & Fite's The Credit Union Movement remains an absolutely vital resource, an enormous amount has happened since the last edition was released in 1984 that has the potential to shine new interpretive light on the whole sweep of the movement's development.

One of the benefits of a synthetic work of history is that it organizes the jumble of changes that characterize its subject's development into a coherent, meaningful narrative structure. While people often enter into ferocious debates about the exact parameters of that structure, having some sort of understanding of the mechanisms by which the world came to exist in its current form is a powerful aid to decision-making. Without such a framework, it is impossible to learn from the past beyond the scope of simple personal experience. As George Santayana put it more than a century ago, "when experience is not retained ... infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

(Credit Union) Historic Boston

As this last week was my partner (and fellow history nerd) Allison's February break from teaching, we decided it'd be fun to take a short trip to Boston from our home in northern Vermont. Alli is a social studies teacher with a particular passion for photographing old New England cemeteries (some samples of her work in Vermont can be seen here), so our activities were primarily focused around the various sites on the Freedom Trail. The colonial-era buildings and burying grounds were quite interesting, but, fortunately for myself and the readers of this blog, she was kind enough to oblige me in taking some detours to locate a few sites of historical importance to the credit union movement.

My quest was initially inspired by the knowledge that a plaque honoring Edward Filene was located somewhere on the Boston Common. Since that park was on our itinerary anyway, I found a webpage that provided the plaque's location, and we set out in search of Ed.

Unfortunately, the directions on that page turned out to be a filthy lie; the plaque is nowhere near the intersection of Tremont and Temple Streets. After making a few loops, we stopped into the visitors center, but the woman behind the desk was clueless as to the existence of the memorial. Though it was beginning to feel like a wild goose chase, we decided to circle through the Common one last time.

Victory at Last!
This time, lady luck was on our side, and we stumbled upon the memorial near the intersection of Carver and Boyleston across the street from a piano store and adjacent to the Central Burying Ground. Erected by the Credit Union National Association in 1959 (25 years after the organization's founding at Estes Park, CO in 1934), the monument reads:

Edward A Filene
Author, Scholar, Outstanding Citizen of Boston and Public Benefactor
Acknowledged as the Founder of the Credit Union Movement in the United States
This Tablet Erected by the Credit Union National Association
May 1959

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review - Comme D'Or: The First Fifty Years of Holy Rosary Credit Union by Michael Behrendt

At the end of my recent trip to America's Credit Union Museum in Manchester, NH, museum director Peggy Powell gave me a copy of the Michael Behrendt's recently published book Comme D'Or: The First Fifty Years of Holy RosaryCredit Union. According to Ms. Powell, the book is representative of a new trend in the historiography of credit unions. For the past few decades, when written about at all, the primary focus of credit union history has been at the level of the national and state-level movement institutions. More recently, however, Ms. Powell has encountered a number of folks working on detailed histories of individual institutions, of which Comme D'Or is an excellent example.

Self-published by Holy Rosary Credit Union of Rochester, NH to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary, Comme D'Or is accessibly written and structured in a way that reveals it's author's solid understanding of the nature of the credit union model. At a time when uncertainty about the nature of the difference between banks and credit unions is far too common, it would be quite easy for a writer coming from outside the movement to write the history of a credit union as if it were that of a bank, with the economic story taking center stage.

Fortunately, Michael Behrendt doesn't fall into this trap. The city planner of Rochester, NH by profession with a book about that city's architectural history already under his belt, Behrendt brings an enormous depth of knowledge about, and appreciation for, the social and cultural history of Rochester to Comme D'Or. As a result, while the economic aspects of Holy Rosary Credit Union's development are not neglected, people and community are (very appropriately) at the core of the narrative.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Primary Source Mother Lode: The St. Francis Xavier University Online Archives

In the early 20th century, St. Francis Xavier, a small Catholic college in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, stood as one of North America's most innovative and active institutions working in support of cooperative development. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Roy Bergengren began corresponding with some of the leading lights at St. Francis Xavier (particularly Father Moses Coady), which led to a great deal of mutual influence between the American credit union and the "Antigonish" movements.

Given this history, I've been wanting to make a trip to Antigonish for a while now in order to dig through the Coady-Bergengren correspondence that is housed in their archives. Though such a journey remains in the realm of idle fantasy for the moment due to lack of funds, I was extremely excited today to discover that they have made a substantial chunk of their collection available to the public through an online archive!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Best. Anniversary. Present. Ever.

My girlfriend tried her hand at making me a t-shirt tribute to Roy Bergengren, with epic results. CU History nerds, eat your hearts out, cuz this baby's one of a kind!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Review - The Ownership of Enterprise by Henry Hansmann

Given the almost total absence of the cooperative model from mainstream business school discourse, I was recently delighted to hear that an acquaintance was teaching an "Introduction to Cooperatives" course at a college in Connecticut. I was quite curious to see what such a course would consist of, so I went on the website and downloaded the syllabus. While the students were exposed to a diversity of readings, the core of the course seemed to be built around one book, The Ownership of Enterprise by Henry Hansmann. Intrigued, I got my hands on the text and began digging in.

As its title suggests, the purpose of Hansmann's book is, fundamentally, the investigation of the forms of ownership that are prevalent in different sectors of the economy. Using a perspective that leverages tools from both economics and political science (he understands the governance of firms to be subject to similar political dynamics that public choice theory dissects in government), Hansmann starts off by offering a general theory of ownership that relies on two key factors.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Occupy Your Credit Union! A Tactic for Activist Members

    While the financial crisis and economic malaise of the past few years has been truly devastating, one silver lining has been the development of increased awareness of the democratic cooperative model of financial services embodied by the credit union movement. Hundred of thousands of people responded to the call to "move your money" around Bank Transfer Day, and both the rate of growth and the stature of the credit union movement is higher than it has been in a very long time.

    All of this is very exciting! However, it only represents the first step in achieving a just financial system. Being a credit union member is not basically the same as being a bank customer who gets better rates and fewer fees; rather, at its core, credit union membership means that you own your bank. With that ownership comes not simply a claim to your fair share of the profits that Bank of America would otherwise have shipped off to its shareholders, but the right to have an equal say in determining the policies and priorities of your credit union.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Wikipedia, that dear friend of the procrastinating history student, has declared that it will black out its website tomorrow to protest the insidious PIPA/SOPA bills that are wending their ways through Congress. Credit Union History fully supports this effort, and we will be suspending the site from 7am-7pm in solidarity. Furthermore, we encourage our readers to check out the Wikimedia Foundation's statement on the issue, call their Congresspeople to register their disapproval of this Draconian threat to the free and open exchange of ideas on the Internet, and otherwise publicly demonstrate your opposition to the bills. The Internet will not be trifled with!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Two Days in Manchester: The Tale of My Trip to America's Credit Union Museum

After dreaming of taking such a trip for the better part of a year and planning it for the past few weeks, last Wednesday I finally left my home in Burlington, Vermont for a two day visit to America's Credit Union Museum in Manchester, New Hampshire. It being northern New England, nasty weather was naturally on its way, so I hit the road in the early afternoon to avoid the impending deluge of ice and snow, and arrived in time grab dinner and drinks with my New Hampshirite friend and fellow mutualist nerd Julia Riber-Pitt.

After some good beer and interesting conversation at Jillians (a local restaurant and pool hall), my mile-long stroll back to the hotel was livened by a parade of gorgeous old historical buildings. Manchester is a classic 19th-century New England industrial town, with enormous, long red-brick mills (now repurposed for a variety of functions) lining both sides of the river that flows through the center of the city. Indeed, America's first credit union, the original site of which is now occupied by the museum, was established to serve the French Canadian immigrants who worked in those mills, and many of the houses that lined my path were built in that era as well.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Credit Union Songs from the Founding of CUNA

After braving the icy roads back to Burlington, VT from my trip to America's Credit Union Museum in Manchester, NH, I have so many things to write about! A full recap of the trip will be forthcoming [*Update: Read it here*], but, in the meantime, I figured I'd treat Credit Union History readers to a fun find: a collection of credit union songs found in Edward Filene's diary from the Credit Union National Association's 1934 founding convention in Estes Park, CO! Included are such toe-tapping numbers as:

"The Old Loan Shark" (to the tune of "The Old Gray Mare")
"Credit Union Fellowship Song" ("Sidewalks of New York")
"Edward A. Filene" ("Yankee Doodle")
"Credit Union, Parley-Voo" ("Hinkey-Dinkey, Parley-Voo")
"Theme Song for Estes Park Credit Union Conference" ("The Man on the Flying Trapeze")
"Song of the Credit Union Widow to her Husband" ("Till We Meet Again")
"Song of the Credit Union Spinsters" ("Silver Threads Among the Gold")

I have to say, I'm looking forward to The Disclosures putting out a grind-core cover of one of these classics. Until that happens, though, I'll leave you with a recent video from those modern toubadours that continues the proud tradition of credit union people writing goofy songs about our movement...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review - Cumet by Roy Bergengren

Written on the ship purser's portable type-writer while returning home from his own European tour in 1933, Cumet: A Fantasy Having to do With Credit Union Mass European Tours (CUMET being an acronym for Credit Union Mass European Tours) is a thirty-four page pamphlet very much inspired by Roy Bergengren's anxieties over the potential for renewed world war. Written in a light, conversational style and hitting on many of the themes treated in greater depth in his 1932 book We the People, Cumet is, in essence, a proposed strategy by which the credit union movement might contribute to heading off such a conflict.

At the core of his proposal is the idea that "all the peoples of the earth would, if they could, live at peace. I believe that they need only to know each other--for they have common hopes and joys and sorrows and a common urge to find happiness." (34) In a world that is rich in relationships that cross international boundaries, Bergengren argues that war would difficult to justify, since people would viscerally understand it as an attack upon people they care about rather than faceless foreigners.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Ownership Salience" in Credit Unions (and Cooperatives)

An extremely interesting and unique characteristic of credit unions (and cooperatives generally) is the nature of their relationships with their member-owners. While often understood simply in terms of members' contractual and legal rights, the movement's history clearly suggests that the ways in which members conceptualize their relationship to their credit unions can vary extremely widely between institutions with identical governance structures. Such differences, in turn, can often exert profound influence on the developmental paths of different credit unions, and thus must be understood as driven by subjective, rather than structural, factors. One such dynamic that that I've found particularly useful and compelling when considering credit union development is something I've come to refer to as "ownership salience."

By this I mean, simply, the intensity with which a credit union member psychologically and behaviorally internalizes the fact that he or she owns their credit union. When ownership salience is entirely lacking, members simply treats their relationship with their credit union relationship as identical in kind to the customer relationship with a bank or other non-member owned business. This sort of person is a credit union member simply because it is the most attractive option on the market, and, when thinking about their institution, he or she uses the pronouns "they" and/or "it" (as in, "They made a donation to the food shelf"). If such a person has a negative experience, their natural response is no different than it would be at a bank: take their business elsewhere.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Book Review - People Helping People: A History of the Maine Credit Union Movement

"People Helping People," is a well-used credit union slogan, and also, it turns out, a common title for books about state movements. Edward M. Walters used the phrase for his 2009 history of credit unionism in Texas, but it's first appearance seems to be on John W. Zerillo and Ted Desveaux's 2004 book People Helping People: A History of the Maine Credit Union Movement.

Though commissioned and published by the Maine Credit Union League, Zerillo and Desveaux's work is especially interesting because, unlike many other trade-association supported histories (including the aforementioned work by Walters and Moody and Fite's CUNA-sponsored national history), it doesn't treat the development of its sponsoring organization as a proxy for the history of the movement as a whole. While the Maine Credit Union League is the focus of one quite readable and interesting chapter, the most fascinating parts of the book come when the authors tell stories of early credit unionism that highlight the culture of the early credit union movement.