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Community & Inclusion are More than Words for Wisconsin’s Credit Unions

DEI in CUs
Jun 16, 2021
By Brett Thompson
Under:
  • The CU Difference
  • Press

 A diverse, equitable, and inclusive approach to serving our members and communities is built into the DNA of Wisconsin’s credit unions. From our very inception, we have been mission- and state statute-driven to “provide an opportunity for members to improve their economic and social conditions.” This focus has been essential over the past 15 months as the COVID-19 pandemic and continuing racial injustice have posed unprecedented challenges for people and communities across Wisconsin.

Here are some recent examples of how Wisconsin’s credit unions have leaned into their credo of “People Helping People”  to create just and inclusive communities across the state: 

  • As not-for-profit, member-owned cooperatives, Wisconsin’s credit unions are uniquely equipped to serve all members. In 2020, the average lowest credit score provided a loan was 404, and 93% of Wisconsin’s credit unions granted a loan of $500 or less. Whether it’s helping a member escape predatory lending, rebuild credit, weather an illness, save for a home, or simply be given a second chance, credit unions are uniquely equipped to provide a lifeline when other financial institutions can’t or won’t. 

  • In 2020, Wisconsin’s credit unions raised $6.7 million for local charities, community projects, and civic groups, many of which were focused on addressing economic and racial disparities. This trend continues into this year, with UW Credit Union’s recent announcement to invest $1.5 million to address racial inequities in Madison and Milwaukee through a new fund launched in partnership with United Way of Dane County and United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County.

  • Wisconsin’s credit unions are deeply committed to closing knowledge gaps through financial literacy and empowerment initiatives that are regularly recognized by the Governor’s Financial Literacy Awards. Credit unions support educating  young people on money matters with more than 100 youth-run, in-school credit union branches, free teaching materials for classrooms and community groups, and interactive reality fairs to engage students in financial decision making. They also provide more than 500,000 hours of free financial counseling to their 3.4 million members annually, and The Wisconsin Credit Union League’s charitable Foundation assists in training credit union staff to be professional financial counselors.

  • In 2020, 95% of Wisconsin credit unions refinanced payday loan debt obtained elsewhere, a predatory form of debt that disproportionately impacts communities of color.

  • In the last decade, Wisconsin’s credit unions have saved their members $1.76 billion in lower loan and interest rates, fewer fees, and in dividends paid back directly to members.

  •  Wisconsin’s credit unions regularly create programs to meet the needs of underserved populations. In the past year, Gundersen Credit Union began a domestic violence assistance loan program. Recognizing that people often leave abusive situations with just the clothes on their backs, the program offers them low-interest, longer term loans so they can make a security deposit on housing, get a vehicle so they can work, and buy necessities like food and clothing.

  • In 2020, over 1,100 Wisconsin credit union employees received diversity, equity, and inclusion training through The Wisconsin Credit Union League.

  • On a national scale, credit unions have a higher percentage of branches in low- and moderate-income areas than banks, helping provide affordable access to credit in those areas for individuals and small businesses.

Our credit unions have both the responsibility and the honor to better the lives of their members and meaningfully address the issues they face, no matter race, religion, sexual orientation, ability, gender expression, citizen status, or financial capability. This distinction has guided our credit unions in their work with members throughout our history and during these unprecedented times so we can build a brighter future for all Wisconsinites.

 

About The Author

Brett Thompson is the President/CEO of The Wisconsin Credit Union League. For media inquiries, please contact Laura Gallagher, (608) 442-6336.