Over the past 28 years, I have dedicated my career to improving the financial lives of people living and working in the Quad-City area. Early in my career, I worked for local community banks that merged into larger, national banks. In 1999, I started working for Ascentra Credit Union (formerly Alcoa Employees & Community Credit Union) and have had the pleasure of serving our members for the past 16 years, serving as CEO since 2013.
As a "reformed banker," my career has given me a unique perspective into the difference between banks and credit unions. Founded with the philosophy of "people helping people," credit unions are a needed choice in the financial services marketplace. As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, credit unions return earnings to members in the form of better rates on loans and lower fees. Unlike the structure of a bank, which is designed to generate profits for a select group of stockholders, the credit union structure helped more than one million Iowa credit union members save approximately $100 million annually compared to what they would have paid for similar services at a bank.
Although still less than 13 percent of the financial services marketplace in Iowa, the credit union industry has seen growth as Iowans realize the value of the credit union structure. The manner in which big banks do business — putting profits before people — has helped credit union growth in Iowa. Time and time again, credit unions are presented with situations from our membership where they are forced to find a new commercial financial relationship because their business no longer fits within the risk or profit profile of a large bank.
Iowa’s credit unions have a large impact on the state’s economy. A new economic report from Iowa State University found Iowa credit unions contributed $1.1 billion in economic productivity to the state’s economy in 2014. Every $1 spent by Iowa’s credit unions added another 77 cents of value to the economy, and every job at an Iowa credit union created an additional 1.28 jobs elsewhere in the state economy. When the direct and indirect jobs created by Iowa credit unions are combined, Iowa credit unions contribute 7,402 jobs paying $349 million in wages to the Iowa economy.
Here in the Quad-Cities, credit unions are at the forefront of supporting community initiatives and providing affordable financial services for the underserved. For example, Ascentra’s newest branch at the corner of Brady and Locust in Davenport rejuvenated a prominent blighted corner while displacing a payday lender in the process. Numerous other examples exist in our area where credit unions have stepped in to serve our community.
Earlier this year, Ascentra and IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union received their Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) designation through the U.S. Treasury Department, which grants opportunities to help financial institutions further initiatives to serve the underserved in our communities. Annual grant opportunities for as much as $2 million may be obtained to expand programs. While local banks can also apply for CDFI certification, to my knowledge, none have done so in our area.
The credit union philosophy also is reflected in our legislative priorities. As we look ahead to the 2016 state legislative session, credit union advocates will be asking state policymakers to support the cooperative tax structure of our not-for-profit financial institutions. This allows credit unions to put the interest of members ahead of the motivation for profits. In addition, credit unions will be advocating for increased funding for valuable financial literacy programs, like the Iowa Credit Union Foundation’s statewide Individual Development Account (IDA) program, a matched savings program that helps Iowans save for an asset that will help them improve their lives.
Iowa’s credit unions help their members save money, support local communities and provide a significant boost to the state’s economy. Consumers win when there is choice and competition in the marketplace. Simply put state legislators can help their constituents by supporting Iowa’s credit unions and the more than 1 million credit union members statewide.