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Credit Unions Look to Set Themselves Apart on Credit Union Day

St. Helens Community Credit Union held a financial reality fair to celebrate Credit Union Day. (Northwest Credit Union Association)
St. Helens Community Credit Union held a financial reality fair to celebrate Credit Union Day. (Northwest Credit Union Association)
October 20, 2016

ST. HELENS, Ore. – Thursday is International Credit Union Day, and the case for these kinds of institutions has grown stronger with customers as scandal continues to rock one of the country's biggest banks.

Credit unions have become the alternative to big-name financial institutions for nearly half of Oregonians and six million members in the Northwest. Troy Stang, president and CEO of the Northwest Credit Union Association, said the member-owned, not-for-profit structure of credit unions gives them an advantage over other financial institutions.

"You don't have to look too far to understand credit unions are accountable right to the member that they serve,” Stang said; "not to Wall Street, not to profit-hungry stockholders, but rather the consumer that they're serving, that's walking in their doors, coming into their online channels day in and day out."

Last week, Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf stepped down in response to a scandal in which it was revealed that bank staff opened new accounts without customers' knowledge. Regulators have fined the bank $185 million and Oregon has said it's reviewing its business with them.

To celebrate International Credit Union Day, the St. Helens Community Credit Union held a financial reality fair, where students participated in live budget exercises that mirror real-life decisions.

Brook Van Vleet, president and CEO of the credit union, said it was an important way to connect with young people, who may be more skeptical of big banks than older generations.

"The millennial market segment is something that is very elusive for traditional financial institutions,” Van Vleet said. "We see a lot of non-traditional competitors in our market space for these millennials."

Stang said the financial literacy gained from events such as the reality fair could help the country avoid another financial disaster.

"I always wonder if everybody in our country had good understanding of astute financial behavior, starting with their own wallet, would our nation have experienced the most recent recession that we did?” he said. “We're taking that responsibility seriously."

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has promised to implement greater scrutiny of big banks and to remove some of the regulatory red tape credit unions and community banks face.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR