Before the twentieth century, U.S. consumers had limited options when it came to financial services. This began to change in the early 1900s, when the financial cooperative model made its way over from Europe. Now, there are nearly 6,000 credit unions in the country that offer their members a wealth of advantages over the megabanks and regional banks. At the most basic level, credit unions were created to promote the interests, goals and values of those they serve – their members. But practically speaking, how does this play out for you as a member? Here are just a few factors to consider:
You really are their number one priority: Credit unions leverage the combined resources of their members to invest for the purpose of creating value for their members. On the other hand, commercial banks rely on outside capital to finance their investments. Not only must banks meet the needs of their customers, but they must also satisfy their stockholders, who may or may not be depositors of the financial institution. When you consider that these two groups are not one and the same, it’s not all that surprisingly that banks often compromise the value and level of service they deliver to their customers.
You’ll get more and pay less: While a bank pays out its profits to its shareholders, a credit union’s earnings are reinvested in the credit union for the benefit of its members. Surplus income produced by a credit union is returned to its members in the form of lower-cost loans, higher dividends on deposits, reduced fees and innovative products and services. A credit union’s earnings also provide the capital needed for a continual investment in the technology and infrastructure that make it possible to deliver high-quality service with a member-focused approach. On the other hand, most banks insist that you pay them to use their services, even though they are using your money for their own purposes. For example, their exorbitant budgets for national advertising campaigns may help earn them mindshare as well as new customers, but they do little to improve your financial position as a customer.
Credit unions can go the extra mile for you: One often overlooked plus of using a credit union as your financial services provider is that they often have more flexibility in their dealings with you and offer more personalized service. Because they process such a high volume of paperwork, banks tend to have stringent requirements when it comes to approving loans and other financial transactions. In addition, decisions are not necessarily made at the local level but must adhere to corporate-wide policies. In contrast, credit unions can often exercise more discretion because they may have a better sense of the risks involved based on a closer relationship with the member, as well as a better appreciation for the needs of the community or the field-of-membership they serve.
You’re not just a customer, you’re also an owner: When you join a credit union like SFPCU, you become part owner of an organization that exists to promote the financial well-being of you and others with whom you share a common bond. Sometimes called a financial cooperative, a credit union is structured so that each member has an equal say in how the institution is run. Every member of the credit union has one vote in electing a board of directors to oversee the organization, regardless of how much money that individual has on deposit. In addition, members may run for election to this governing board. On the other hand, banks are owned and controlled by stockholders, who may or may not be the bank’s customers. If you are simply a bank’s customer, you do not have voting rights, nor do you have the opportunity to run for election to the board.
Credit unions are easy to find, and easy to access: Many consumers still operate under the assumption that credit unions are difficult to find and that joining one means coming to terms with the fact that you will be forced to pay for ATM fees, since credit unions don’t have their own. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only are there thousands of financial cooperatives throughout the U.S., but hundreds of these credit unions have joined together in a CO-OP Shared Branching Network – resulting in greatly enhanced convenience for their members.
Credit unions that participate in Shared Branching, including SF Police Credit Union, offer their members access to nearly 30,000 surcharge-fee ATMs nationwide. What’s more, members of participating credit unions can enter any of the 5,600 CO-OP shared branches throughout all fifty states and conduct business just as if they were in their “home” credit union. When you consider that credit unions like SFPCU also offer a robust array of secure mobile and online banking features, it’s pretty clear that convenience is just one more area where credit unions excel.
As a member of SFPCU, you can make it possible for any member of your extended family to join – including parents, grandparents, a spouse, siblings, children and stepchildren, grandchildren and step grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, first cousins and domestic partners. For details on eligibility for SFPCU membership, visit https://www.sfpcu.org/membership/eligibility. Have a friend or colleague who doesn’t meet the criteria for SFPCU but wants to enjoy all of the benefits credit union membership has to offer? Help them find a credit union in their area by directing them to the credit union locator at www.mycreditunion.gov.