I’ve got something you want and it’s free!

I was recently attending a conference and found myself surrounded primarily by bankers. I was in a room full of financial institutions where even the smallest community bank was larger than most of the credit unions I serve daily. Now I could have been intimidated. Maybe been a wallflower, thinking I had nothing to offer that could be of any benefit to the conversation. But I was at the conference to learn after all. I am intelligent women with professional experience and a desire to serve larger than Mount Everest. Telling myself that I didn’t come all of the way here just to sit on the sidelines, I waited for an opportunity to speak up.

Then the moment came. My new friends were brainstorming on ways they could leverage technology to overcome the obstacles they face in their shops each and every day. Despite the crowd mostly being bankers, we all had something in common. We all had each other. Seizing the moment, I said “I have something all of you want and it’s free!” Well if free doesn’t get someone’s attention, I don’t know what does. “With cooperation you can get more accomplished than when you try to do something alone,” I said. Then the real conversation began.

The cooperative idea

The idea of cooperation isn’t new. In the early 19th century, Robert Owen, the father of the cooperative movement, believed that putting his workers in a good environment with access to education for them and their children would improve results. It would be a way out of poverty for the workers and a way to success for his business. However, when Mr. Owen reached the U.S. his community failed.

Along came William King. Dr. King believed that the ideas of Mr. Owen needed to be more workable and practical. Dr. King, a teacher at heart, started a monthly periodical called The Co-operator. He believed that a blend of cooperative philosophy and practical advice about running a shop using sensible rules, having a weekend audit and not holding meetings in the town pub, would attain an equal level of success as the first cooperatives.

So, if the cooperative idea has a proven track record of success, then why haven’t more people embraced the idea?

The cooperative principles

Cooperative principles when put into action to help everyone succeed. It doesn’t matter if you’re a farmer, bank, or credit union living the principles established by Robert Owen, William King and many of the other cooperative services leaders can be extremely beneficial. When followed these guiding principles can and will help you serve with purpose and quite possibly enjoy the idea that you helped the greater good of the community together.

My advice? If you can’t be a cooperative, then cooperate like you are one.

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership. Be available and open and willing to accept the responsibility without social, racial or religious discrimination.
  2. Democratic Control. Be controlled by the people who buy the goods or use your services. The people that actively participate in setting polices and making decisions.
  3. Economic Participation. Contribute equally. Benefit the people you serve in proportion to the business they conduct in you.
  4. Maintain our autonomy and Independence. Make your alliances with the people and organizations that have the same purpose in mind and that you do it first for your members/customers.
  5. Educate, Train and Inform. Provide education for those you serve, representatives, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to your development.
  6. Cooperation among Cooperatives. Serve members by strengthening the cooperative culture through collaboration with others.
  7. Concern for Community. Continue to work on the sustainable development of the communities you serve and in which you operate.

Credit unions need something to rally around. What better than to employ the very principles that are at the foundation of credit unions and other cooperative businesses? I am proud to have established my career as a caretaker of the cooperative movement. My fiduciary duty as a member is to uphold the cooperative principles in everything I do. Whether attending a conference, working alongside our credit unions, being a member of my credit union or in my leadership roles within my community at large, my responsibility is to live the cooperative principles and pay them forward to many new generations to come. Who will join me?


  • Julie Gessner

    A 17-year veteran of CU*Answers, Julie has dedicated her career to advocating for financial services that benefit credit unions and their members. At CU*Answers, Julie leads business development and marketing initiatives in support of a variety of management service offerings. Julie spends her days working with credit union executives and managers to establish strategies that maximize the opportunity to succeed in both credit union operations and member service.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *