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Credit Unions: a socially responsible financial cooperative of member/owners

Community First celebrates our members, power of our cooperative

October 17, 2013


NOTE: This article by Michael King, CFCU communications manager, ran as a guest column in the Sunday, Oct. 13 Appleton Post-Crescent in advance of International Credit Union Day on Oct. 17.

By Michael King

For Post-Crescent Media

Ron thought he was going to lose his home.

A serious medical issue several years ago cost him a good-paying manufacturing job. With a wife, two young children and major medical bills, Ron racked up more than $20,000 in credit card debt while off work.

Slowly, he regained his health and found full-time work. But, due to the U.S. financial crisis, he had to settle for a lower-paying job, making it difficult to catch up on bills. The financial institution that held their mortgage was unwilling to help. “It’s a horrible feeling to be deep in debt,” his wife said.

With payments due and fearing the worst, they stopped in to see the assistant manager at the Community First Credit Union branch they had joined a few years earlier for a vehicle loan. Using the equity in a vehicle, they were able to get a consolidation loan to pay off the credit card debt and significantly reduce their monthly payments. The manager also took the time to help the couple create their first household budget using BALANCE Financial Fitness, a free program offered by Community First.

“After just going over the budgeting and the payments, you could see the weight lifted off their shoulders, and he was crying,” the assistant manager said.

Months later, Ron said, “It has taken a lot of stress away. Community First has pointed me in the right direction.” His wife added, “Community First believed in us that we could actually pay our bills and stood behind us when no one else wanted to.”

This week credit unions everywhere will celebrate what makes them unique in the financial services industry as Oct. 17 is International Credit Union Day.

A credit union is a financial cooperative where members are also owners and pool their resources to help each other. In short, member deposits fund loans and the interest paid on loans helps the credit union to fund the interest paid on deposits plus offer other financial services – all at better rates and lower fees.

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, credit unions were formed in the 1930s to encourage thrift. We are governed by a volunteer board of directors elected by the members who each have one vote at our annual meetings. Our profits are returned to members to fulfill the people-helping-people philosophy that make credit unions vastly different from other for-profit financials. Credit unions represent a viable, trust-worthy option, as well as increased competition, in the financial services arena. It is estimated this competition saves consumers tens of millions of dollars annually.

At Community First, our name gives you a clue as to what we’re all about.

It was 30 years ago last month that Appleton Area Credit Union was renamed Community First to better reflect the socially responsible, member-focused organization it had become.

Even though Community First has grown to almost $2 billion in assets and over 105,700 member/owners, we have maintained our focus on individual members’ needs, goals and dreams through a network of neighborhood branches located throughout Northeast Wisconsin. We support nonprofit groups and causes, promote financial literacy in our schools and provide financial and other resources to enhance the common good in communities where our members live, work, play and volunteer.

Credit unions have the highest customer satisfaction rate among all financial institutions due to their singular focus on what’s good for members.

Community First is closing in on a successful three-year, $100 million savings mission that you’ve no doubt heard about or seen in our media ads. But, thanks to the collective wisdom and power of our member/owners, that savings mission and our cooperative structure will never end.

Michael King, a former P-C staff writer, is the communications manager at Community First Credit Union.