US credit union movement takes stand against racism

CUNA, the African American Credit Union Coalition, Inclusiv and the NCUA are among those making statements

As protests continue across the USA in response to the death of George Floyd, credit union organisations have re-stated their commitment to equality and diversity.

The Credit Union National Association (CUNA) board has passed a resolution that “publicly acknowledges and stands against structural racism and commits to creating a pathway to change within the credit union system”.

This follows a commitment on Monday’s by CUNA president/CEO Jim Nussle that the organisation would be an advocate against social injustice.

“The credit union mission of ‘people helping people’ calls on us to recognise the inequities facing black members and black communities,” he said. “We can and should do more to listen, learn, speak up, and take action to help dismantle racial disparities.

“Given CUNA’s leadership role within the credit union movement, it is far past time that we speak out and support efforts to break down the systems that enable racism. We look forward to working with the Leagues and system partners, including the African American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), to deliver meaningful change in the credit union system and — most importantly — the lives of credit union members.”

The resolution directs CUNA to work with credit union system partners to create measurable ways that the organisation can commit to action by August 10, the anniversary of the creation of the credit union system.

The resolution also expressed an expectation that the credit union movement live the mission of “people helping people” rooted in compassion for all people, noting that it is important to:

  • Recognise the historic, systemic, and institutional racism toward black people and black communities
  • Stand against racism and discrimination
  • Be made up of employers that prioritise diversity, equity, and inclusion, where employees feel valued, safe, included, respected, and justly treated regardless of their racial identity    
  • And be unwavering in its commitment to deepen and support black and other historically marginalised communities by promoting financial inclusion, equity, and economic opportunity, recognising the mission of “people helping people” and the movement’s unique position to be a catalyst for change.

Meanwhile, Renée Sattiewhite president and CEO of the African-American Credit Union Coalition (AACUC), reaffirmed her organisation’s commitment to diversity – as set out in its mission statement.

She wrote for industry website CU Insight: “AACUC is an example of how our nation could learn to be interactive with all races. When you attend an AACUC event you interact with people from many different backgrounds. Interns, young professionals (under 40), seasoned professionals (41 – 65), elder professionals (66+), many different ethnicities and cultures – people who work in trade organisations, credit union vendors, credit union executives, board members and staff all coming together having a shared non-violent experience. We are an inclusive organisation. We don’t just say it – we demonstrate it.

Related: Co-ops publish solidarity statements in response to the death of George Floyd

“It is my belief that while there are atrocities that have continued for well over 400 years, that if people were to get to know one another – see their fellow man/woman as a person, talk about their challenges, struggles, successes, that kind of interaction would break down barriers.”

She added: “I am convinced more now than ever that the credit union industry can lead the nation in eliminating racial discrimination. Credit union people do not have all the answers, but as practitioners of financial institutions we have a commodity that everyone needs.

“Here is the opportunity for people in the credit union movement to stand together, united against racism. We must be intentional in our thoughts and our deeds. Simple kindness goes a long way in healing. Let’s be kind to one another, let’s create groups to address the social ills that plague our society, let’s be committed to doing what we can, when we can, because we can.”

Inclusiv – the sector body for the USA’s community development credit unions which serve low- and moderate-income people and communities – wrote on its website: “We mourn the death of George Floyd and stand in solidarity with the millions fighting for justice for his life and all black lives and communities that face systemic racism and oppression. 

“Inclusiv is dedicated to the financial empowerment of communities of colour, and we remain committed to working together with allies to achieve a racially and economically just future for our country.”

And Rodney E Hood, chair of the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), has issued a statement on the issue.

“As the first African-American to lead a federal banking agency, I feel compelled to speak following the tragic death of George Floyd,” he said “Over the past few months, communities across the country have been overwhelmed with challenge and uncertainty. Besides being on the heels of a global pandemic, we are also experiencing heightened levels of strife following yet another instance of abuse of authority and violence against a black man.

“For me, these discussions are more than simply abstracts — they are personal to me. In my banking career, I’ve attended conferences and professional events where I was the only man of colour in the room. I’ve arrived early to speak on a panel discussion, and people were surprised to learn that I was a participant. I vividly remember the conversations with my father about how to engage with police when pulled over, and my mother performing safety checks on my car before I went out on the weekends to ensure the signal and brake lights were all functioning properly. In 2020, I find myself having similar conversations with my young African-American cousins.

“As an African-American man, I am shocked and appalled and share the heartbreak of many in the black community. I am all too familiar with the anger and frustration that comes with the everyday challenges and realities surrounding race. While I pray for justice, healing, and peace for our nation and for the family and loved ones of George Floyd, I am also encouraging everyone to have difficult conversations and to look for ways to promote diversity and inclusion within our communities. Individually and collectively, we can make a difference — one conversation and relationship at a time.”

Mr Hood said the NCUA is “striving for ways to lead on these issues”, and he has made financial inclusion a top priority for his chairmanship. This “means expanded access to the financial mainstream for underserved communities as well as diverse hiring, contracting and board membership”.

He also pushed for creation of the NCUA’s Culture, Diversity, and Inclusion Council, set up last month to focus on issues of inclusion within the agency.

“True inclusion within our financial regulators, financial institutions and communities is a goal we all must strive towards,” he added. “Diversity is important, but without cultural change that encourages true inclusion, it risks being little more than checking the right boxes.”

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