MADISON, Wis. (5/27/08)--Credit unions can address mounting social and environmental concerns as they build a foundation for innovation and growth, according to a recent Filene Research Institute study.
By doing this, credit unions can outperform their competitors in today’s business and--even more important--outrun them in tomorrow’s technologies and markets, say Stuart Hart and Monica Touesnard of Cornell University’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise in “Back to the Future: Integrating into Credit Union Strategy.” Rather than competing directly with banks, it makes more sense for credit unions to go “back to the future” by using their unique historical and organizational characteristics. The characteristics include tax-exempt status, cooperative ownership, community lending and focus on the underserved to offer a set of products and services that differentiates them from banks and other financial services providers, Hart and Touesnard conclude. The broad domain of sustainability offers such a landscape of opportunity, say the authors. Current strategies to minimize waste and emissions for operations might include green building initiatives and paperless services such as bill pay and online banking. Product stewardship strategies designed to integrate stakeholder services into business processes might include sustainability reporting initiatives and in-house sustainability consulting services. For the future, a strategy of clean technology promises to develop competencies such as financing green products and investment in clean technologies. Sustainability strategies also hold potential to create a shared road map for meeting unmet needs, such as REAL Solutions products and services. REAL Solutions is a National Credit Union Foundation program to further credit unions’ efforts to serve low-wealth and modest means households. “The opportunities in this report suggest that financial institutions are just beginning to experiment with programs and initiatives related to sustainability,” said George Hofheimer, Filene’s chief research officer. “As a result, we have yet to realize the challenges and opportunities implicit in sustainability strategies.”