from Joe Bergeron & Sean Gammon
The past year was another successful one for the Association of Vermont Credit Unions and its member credit unions overall. We continue to be among a very few states who can be proud to say that over 54% of their population claims membership in a credit union. That’s a remarkably high popularity with consumers for such a small state, and representative of the great benefit that Vermont credit unions are providing to consumers.
Vermont credit unions cover a spectrum of fewer than 300 members and less than $500,000 in assets, all the way up to almost 90,000 members with in excess of $1.1 billion in assets. Still, both of those credit unions, and the 19 in between, follow the very same cooperative structure, cooperative principles, and prioritize service and value to their 340,000 member-owners.
Because of their cooperative nature, Vermont credit unions are among the most competitive of financial service providers, putting $23 million into the Vermont economy in 2015. That’s $23 million into consumer pockets, above and beyond what would be in their pocket by doing business with for-profit alternatives. Even Vermont consumers who turn elsewhere for financial services benefit from the competition that Vermont credit unions create in the marketplace. Estimates are that those consumers would have $8 million LESS in their pocket if Vermont credit unions no longer existed.
The success and higher profile that Vermont credit unions enjoy in the marketplace does draw the attention of challengers. That’s where our Association’s primary role comes into play. As the lone advocate for Vermont credit unions, during the most recent session of the Vermont Legislature, we successfully deterred the Statehouse intimation of possible credit union taxation — and more importantly, effectively countered an anti-credit union rhetoric campaign by the state’s banking industry.
During both years of the just concluded biennium, your Association scrutinized more than 1,150 bills that were introduced in the Vermont Legislature. We took an active role to protect or enhance credit union interests on those that directly affected credit unions. Over that same two year-period, we prepared for the release of the 40-page anti-credit union study by Vermont bankers by conducting consumer polling, strategizing, and lobbying legislators in groups and one-to-one meetings. No other entity is better positioned, nor seeks to safeguard credit union legislative interests, than your Association. We’re also very fortunate to have a supremely effective advocacy team that is highly regarded by Vermont legislators. The same holds true for our efforts on federal issues with our Vermont delegation in Washington.
Beyond advocacy, at the conclusion of 2015 we were proud to announce action by the Association’s board that provided the biggest rebate to member credit unions in the history of the organization. Such annual rebates are based on a combination of fee-based business done with the Association by our credit unions, the profits of that year, and projected needs going forward. Rebates declared by the Board are discretionary and not guaranteed, but 2015 marked the 8th year in a row that our Association has been fortunate to provide this to our members. Such good fortune is representative of the use of Association fee based programs by Vermont credit unions.
We’re privileged to have such sources of revenue to support operations other than member dues, which almost exclusively is purposed solely to advocate for credit union interests. Still, dues are critical to the primary mission of most trade associations. Thanks to the foresight of our Association’s board and membership in implementing a modernized dues formula a few years ago, those membership dollars avoid the negative impact from periodic reductions in the number of credit unions which happens in some other states. Also, the popularity of Vermont credit unions among consumers delivers growth that outpaces any declines resulting from mergers.
On behalf of the Association’s Board of Directors and staff, we thank Vermont credit unions for the strong support they provide to us through membership and use of programs. With it, we can continue to defend credit unions legislatively and help bring the benefit of cooperative financial services to even more Vermont consumers.