Thursday, April 10, 2014

Roy Bergengren on the Dangers of Credit Union Professionalism

Excerpted from Roy F. Bergengren's 1938 Soul: A Fourth Credit Union Book (pg. 65-66). Original emphasis in italics, my emphasis in bold:

"[I]t seems to me, among the fundamentals [of the credit union movement] is the basic simplicity of what we are trying to do. We learn in credit unions how to manage our own business; we are brave enough not to accept bad practices just because of their antiquity. Much precedent is nothing but uncorrected bad habit. We pioneer when we have to. We try--and successfully to--to build men and women in their self respect, in their capacity to reach out and up and to accomplish what they have hitherto never dreamed to be within the realm of their latent capacities. We belong with the masses of the people, not working on a level which is beyond their reach but working with each other and helping each other up to new levels which we thought to be unattainable. As we increase and multiply and grow in strength and in power; as our accumulation becomes increasingly great and our army swells to many millions--there will be those who cannot refrain from attempting our exploitation. We shall be told that we must employ experts for this and that; that we must delegate to those who might exploit us the opportunity for such exploitation. Some of our leaders will not know how to grow with the growth of their respective responsibilities. They will forget their humble origins and, forgetting how they emerged from the ranks, they may easily fall into the pitfalls of those who, not knowing how to use power, abuse it. We must not get lost to accountants, and lawyers and bankers; we must not become prone to call in professionals who, not knowing how to think credit-union-wise, will drag into our councils all of the bad thinking on which so many professional thinkers are trained. There must not be too many rules for in the complicity incidental to too many rules comes confusion as to the fundamentals. The credit union is the true democracy; it is the real hope of working people because it comes from and belongs to working people.


I know some splendid credit union treasurers whose credit unions are well managed, one man shows. The directors are rubber stamps; the credit committee sits idly by and leaves the matter of determining credit to the treasurer. Everyone leans on him and no one knows anything about the credit union except as he interprets the credit union, and, too often in the process of his interpretation proves conclusively that he doesn't know what a credit union is. The right credit union is the credit union wherein the average member has an understanding of his credit union in all phases of its potentialities of service.

If we are understanding we will not make mistakes like one I heard recently debated in a credit union league meeting; it was proposed that the law be amended to relieve the credit committee of all its obligations on unsecured loans and to give the treasurer arbitrary power to determine all loans up to one hundred dollars. The meeting hooted down the suggestion and we must be aware of suggestions for changes in our basic law which violates principles which are a part of the fundamental character of which I have been speaking."

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