New Members From the Occupy, Bank Transfer Day Ranks Must Become Credit Union Advocates

Yesterday, Occupy Wall Street announced that it was moving into Phase 2, dropping the “Occupy” name altogether and becoming “The 99%,” a political movement that will take the fight of economic inequity out of the streets and into city halls and state houses across the country—and to Washington D.C.

Beyond the hyperbole of what this means for “The 99%” movement, what does this mean for credit unions? Virtually every single one of the 700,000-plus share accounts opened between Sept. 29 and Nov. 5 was influenced by this collective. These new members didn’t just join a credit union as individuals. Many of them marched in the streets in support of credit unions, and they encouraged their friends and family—and anyone else who would listen—to join as well.

This mostly young (18-35), mostly middle class (from my observances) group is composed of activists who are on the side of credit unions, though most are currently on the outskirts of financial stability. But they’re young. And for years, credit unions have wondered aloud how to attract this group of future earners as a matter of survival.

The father of the modern credit union movement, Alphonse Desjardins (whose birthday is Nov. 5, coincidentally), was also an activist in his thirties when he first started hatching the idea of “caisses populaires”in Canada, which was a synthesis of four popular savings and credit systems established in Germany, Italy and France. Desjardins eventually opened 187 caisses populaires in Québec, 24 in Ontario and nine in the United States.

Desjardins started the North American Credit Union movement as an activist turned politician. The 99%, it seems, could similarly be a boon for credit unions not just in terms of members, but in terms of leadership, too, as its primary activities morph from civil disobedience and raising awareness of bank alternatives to politics, where it will attempt to create systemic change, especially in the financial services industry.

Everyone in the credit union movement has wondered what might happen if only the general public realized that credit unions are a smarter choice. Now, this national conversation has credit unions in the spotlight. It is likely, in fact, that credit unions will add one million new members to their rolls in 2011.

The opportunity for credit unions lies in the identity of these new members. The past several weeks have netted hundreds of thousands of new members—members who are already credit union advocates. They already have the activist mindset, and in many ways, they are already mobilized. They represent more than just an additional share draft account or an additional member at a given credit union. Together, these new members represent a serious opportunity for credit unions to collectively grow the entire credit union movement.

As credit unions carefully move forward, engaging this new demographic and capitalizing on the climate in which they joined will be critical to the future of the movement. Credit unions must find a way to help their new members continue to be advocates for credit unions so that the migration of the past several weeks can continue exponentially.


Questions or Comments? Contact NWCUA Director of Public Relations David Bennett:

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