A Matter of Principles part two

December 20, 2012 · By Kelvin Smith

In my last post I began the process of exploring the Seven Cooperative Principles upon which Arizona Federal Credit Union is founded. We made it through the first three: Voluntary and Open Membership, Democratic Member Control and Members’ Economic Participation. This time around I’ll cover the remaining four.

But first, I need to address something that’s come up more than once in comments I’ve received from members in response to previous posts (thanks for your comments, by the way!). The actual comments vary, but the recurring theme is that some members see the credit union’s recent move to collect membership dues as a ploy to increase revenue, a way to overcome financial difficulties. While this perception isn’t surprising, it couldn’t be further from the truth.

After several years of negative financial results due to the nationwide recession and the effect it had on our members’ payment patterns, Arizona Federal is once again on solid financial ground. We will end the year with a net worth of over nine percent, considered well-capitalized by any measure. And that’s after paying out $3 million to members in the form of PLUs, Paybacks for Loyalty to Us. We are financially strong, and while we anticipate continued downward pressure on earnings from loans and investments in the short-term, we feel confident that this strength will continue.

The assessment of membership dues isn’t about revenue; it’s about membership. For the credit union to reach its full potential as a financial cooperative, all of its members – all of Us – need to be fully invested in its mission. And frankly, that hasn’t always been the case. Many of Us have been more like customers than members; we’ve utilized a service or two where we felt we were getting the best deal, but we haven’t given much thought to the health of the cooperative or how our participation created benefit for the rest of the group. As we saw in the principles we looked at last time, those kinds of relationships are contrary to what a cooperative is all about. So by assessing dues, we’re demonstrating that membership is worth something; If you don’t see at least $3 a month in value from your membership, then we are probably not right for you.

Back to our Principles

Principle #4 – Autonomy and Independence. Cooperatives are autonomous self-help organizations controlled by their members. Yes, we are federally-regulated (and shares are federally-insured). But the core decisions about what we do and how we do it rest entirely with the membership.

Principle #5 – Education, Training and Information. Cooperatives provide education and training for members, elected representatives and employees. We take this principle very seriously, and perhaps go further with it than most. Our goal is to make each of Us a savvy financial consumer, so we are committed to providing information and expertise at all levels of the organization. This is a strength now, and it will become even more important as Arizona Federal moves forward.

Principle #6 – Cooperation among Cooperatives. Cooperatives work together. Did you know that you do not pay a surcharge fee to access the funds in your accounts at more than 28,000 ATMs nationwide – most of which are owned by other credit unions? Or that through Shared Branching, you can access your accounts in thousands of credit union branches, including many right here in Arizona? For-profit financial institutions simply do not work together like cooperatives do.

Principle #7 – Concern for Community. While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities. At Arizona Federal, our primary avenue for fulfilling this principle is through financial literacy and education, but we also contribute financially to a select group of community service organizations and our employees volunteer countless hours for these and other causes.

That completes our look at the Seven Cooperative Principles upon which Arizona Federal stands. I am convinced  and I am sure you will agree that when we strictly adhere to these principles we create the most efficient possible model for providing personal financial services. The rest of your Board and I are committed to living these principles out. If you agree with us, please let me know. And more importantly, please show the rest of Us your commitment by taking advantage of all your credit union has to offer.

After all, it’s a matter of principles being one of Us!



Tags: Cooperatively Speaking