Three years ago, I supported Congress’ desire to act swiftly during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; like many in our citizenry I wanted my elected officials to “do something.” And what I got (as well as you) was Dodd-Frank, “An Act to promote the financial stability of the United States by improving accountability and transparency in the financial system, to end ‘too big to fail,’ to protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts, to protect consumers from abusive financial services practices, and for other purposes.”
Did you know the rest of the title of that famous 2010 legislation is “Wall Street Reform and the Consumer Protection Act”? After last week’s J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. debacle, there are new concerns whether Wall Street truly was reformed and consumers actually protected. And while some may argue that what happens 2,000 miles away doesn’t impact them, most of us are acutely aware that risky actions impacting our nation’s largest financial institutions certainly make their way back to Main Street.
Ahhh, Main Street, the oft-used, idyllic descriptor of small businesses everywhere — and while the term has received a ton of political play lately, certainly most can agree that “Main Street” applies to home-grown, locally owned businesses. Cooperatives, by their very nature, epitomize that Main Street descriptor. You see, each cooperative business abides by seven principles: voluntary and open membership; democratic control; member economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation amongst cooperatives; and concern for community.
Quite simply, cooperative businesses are owned by their users and organized to provide a service without profit motive. The International Cooperative Alliance describes co-ops as: “An autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” All cooperatives have the shared values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity.
The United Nation’s International Year of Cooperatives is 2012, and for good reason, there are cooperative businesses in nearly every sector — farm, electrical, food and financial services. So now we’re back to financial services. Were you aware that credit unions are financial cooperatives? Which means that they are owned by their depositors and created specifically to serve the financial needs of those engaged in the co-op — no stockholders, no paid board members — and what could be more Main Street than that?
And, at the same time credit unions adhere to the great principles and values listed above, they provide a safe, local option for financial transactions (all of Montana’s credit unions have federal depository insurance safeguarding deposits).
While I expect that Wall Street, and the actions of a few bad actors, will continue to plague us even in the Treasure State, it’s comforting to know that there are options for those seeking refuge in Main Street providers — I invite you to try a locally owned, cooperative business like a credit union and put your money to work in your own community.
Tracie Kenyon is president/CEO of the Montana Credit Union Network, the trade association for Montana’s credit unions and credit union organizations.