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Friday, February 3, 2017 6:25 AM

Joe Hankey, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant, CUNA Mutual Group

Let’s face it, 2016 was tough. International unrest, divisive politics, and banking scandals painted a pretty bleak picture of the world (and I didn’t even mention the untimely deaths of Prince, Juan Gabriel, Carrie Fisher…). It wasn’t smooth sailing for credit unions either. Yes, membership grew at the fastest rate for a generation but more than 200 credit unions closed or merged nationally, and billions of dollars were invested in FinTech—products and services designed specifically to disrupt our market.

The coming 12 months won’t be any easier. Put simply, credit unions must adapt and evolve to meet the challenges ahead. But there is a core element of our movement that must remain true throughout: supporting the communities we serve.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jan. 16, countless credit union members, advocates, and employees demonstrated that social commitment by volunteering in their communities. I’m proud to say more than 400 CUNA Mutual Group employees signed up to volunteer, although several inches of freezing rain in the Midwest put a damper on some of our plans.

Across our country and beyond, it was a day when roadsides were cleared of litter, community centers spruced up, and food pantries restocked. But just as importantly, it was an opportunity for us as a collective credit union movement to demonstrate firsthand that our communities really matter.  And that, member or not, it is we who belong to them, not the other way round.

Of course, for all credit unions, it is a fine line to walk. As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, we must cautiously balance our business needs with those of our founding social principles, particularly in times of economic and legislative uncertainty when it can be easy to prioritize the former. However, as MLK Day volunteers will likely attest, it is both a professional and personal privilege to give back through work. This cannot be relegated to something we do just once or twice a year.

Dr. King himself once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” I truly believe that as we face the challenges of 2017 and beyond, continued credit union growth and prosperity can only be achieved by emphasizing our heritage. By demonstrating, time and again, who we are and what we do. There will always be competitors, and there will always be difficulties, but in the financial arena, it will always be credit unions that put people first.

Joe Hankey, diversity and inclusion consultant, CUNA Mutual Group, advises leaders on ways to foster open, trusting and inclusive work environments; identifies organizational risks and develops training opportunities. He also leads the company’s network of Employee Resource Groups responsible for representing employees’ with shared interests. Joe can be reached at joe.hankey@cunamutual.com.

CUNA Mutual Group is the marketing name for CUNA Mutual Holding Company, a mutual insurance holding company, its subsidiaries and affiliates. Corporate headquarters are located in Madison, Wis.