by Tim McAlpine, Founder & CEO
North America's first credit union, Caisse Populaire de Lévis in Quebec, Canada, started its journey on December 6, 1900, when about 100 people signed a social pact and approved the co-operative's rules and by-laws. Founder Alphonse Desjardins, a reporter in the Canadian Parliament, embarked on this mission in 1897 after hearing about a Montrealer who had to pay nearly $5,000 in interest on a $150 loan from a moneylender. Desjardins not only turned a consumer problem into a business opportunity but also initiated an act of financial wellness that later became a defining characteristic of credit unions.
Fast forward to today, there are more than 4,800 credit unions operating in U.S. and Canada, each catering to specific regions and focusing on their members' unique needs. Together, these credit unions manage assets exceeding $2.8 trillion.
In line with the multitude of lists that seem to permeate various aspects of life and business, credit unions have their own rankings. These lists traditionally factor in variables like assets, location, member satisfaction and more. However, what sets the lists we're about to explore apart is their focus on the 10 best credit unions in the U.S. and Canada. These institutions aren't in the limelight solely due to their size; it's their attributes like product selection, APY offerings, account fees and mobile features that have earned them a place on these distinctive rankings.
10 Best U.S. Credit Unions as rated by Bankrate.com
10 Best Canadian Credit Unions as rated by Wealthawesome.com*
*Wealthawesome includes 15 credit unions from 5 provinces on their list. To be consistent with the U.S. list, I've included their 10 best.
What's common among these top credit unions is the key to their success: they make it easy for members to join with minimal restrictions. They offer fee-free products, with free checking and savings being the most common. They maintain low deposit minimums, provide high-yield accounts, boast extensive ATM networks, offer ATM fee rebates, ensure easy access to physical branches and provide mobile banking apps. Interestingly, this ease of joining is less of an issue in Canada, where closed bond or limited field of membership credit unions are much less prevalent.
Securing a spot in any list can be a formidable task, especially when you're competing against close to 5,000 rivals. However, when we explore the shared characteristics of these high ranking credit unions, it becomes clear that their features are far from unique or exclusive to billion-dollar credit unions. Features like free checking (or chequing in Canada), competitive rates, and comprehensive access to remote, physical and online banking services are not only readily available but also highly popular on both sides of the border.
Wellness for all
What's often overlooked, even by those who rank these institutions, is the presence of a financial wellness program. Defined by Meridian Credit Union, financial wellness encompasses the ability to meet financial needs, a sense of security about one's financial future, and the freedom to make choices that enhance life.
However, what matters here is the presence of such a program. It serves as an indicator of a well-thought-out strategy to engage with members and improve their financial situation and outlook. This approach holds significant importance for several reasons.
The synergy of these factors equates to good business in a way that aligns with the principles Alphonse Desjardin would have endorsed.
In a continuing effort to help student loan borrowers, LendKey, the pioneer of digital network lending, is excited to announce their latest partnership with Payitoff, a leader in consumer debt guidance tools. The collaboration introduces a free and user-friendly tool designed to help federal student loan borrowers save significantly on their federal student loan payments.
The innovative Federal Student Loan Optimizer tool, powered by Payitoff, allows borrowers to input their federal loan information, even if they are unsure about their servicer details. By considering various factors such as income, other debts, dependents, and more, Payitoff provides personalized recommendations for federal income-driven repayment plans. This empowers borrowers to choose the best plan based on their unique circumstances, leading to potential monthly savings on average of $240, and without sacrificing federal loan benefits.
This partnership provides an easy-to-use solution for managing student loan debt and helping lower those monthly payments. Borrowers can access the information through LendKey’s Federal Student Loan Optimizer, a tool designed to support anyone with federal student debt, irrespective of their ability or willingness to refinance.
Vince Passione, CEO of LendKey, emphasized, “As the CARES Act sunsets, it has created uncertainty for millions of borrowers. LendKey and Payitoff have come together to offer this tool to not only educate federal student loan borrowers on their options, but also help them to achieve financial stability more quickly.”
The Federal Student Loan Optimizer guides borrowers through a simple process:
“We all know the challenges the student loan payment resumption has caused, and will continue to cause, for student loan borrowers,” stated Bobby Matson, CEO of Payitoff. “Partnering with companies like LendKey allows us to help borrowers easily see all their repayment options, and significantly reduce monthly payments. We’re excited by the possibilities this partnership provides.”
To receive personalized student loan repayment recommendations and enroll in federal debt management programs in one seamless platform, click here or visit lendkey.com.
Talent development leader CUES announces that CEO Institute: FinTech is returning in 2024, giving credit union professionals the opportunity to deepen their understanding of advanced fintech concepts and learn more about the innovations brought about by fintech.
“Fintech has simultaneously opened many opportunities for growth and innovation and brought about extraordinary challenges and upheaval in the financial sector,” said Dawn Abely, CUES SVP/Chief Sales & Member Relations Officer. “CEO Institute: FinTech helps attendees manage and deal with disruptions, explore how to achieve strategic goals through smart technology use, and quickly turn fintech challenges into growth opportunities.”
CEO Institute: FinTech goes far beyond typical conferences with curriculum designed and facilitated by CUES partner, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, to increase participant’s understanding and stretch their thinking. Attendees will:
CEO Institute: FinTech is the latest in the line of prestigious CUES Institutes developed alongside world-renowned learning institutions, which include CEO Institutes I, II, and III and CUES Governance Leadership Institutes I and II.
CEO Institute: FinTech is a stand-alone offering for executives; attendance at CEO Institute I, II, or III is not a prerequisite, but alumni of these programs are encouraged to attend to continue their leadership journey.
CEO Institute: FinTech is happening April 15-19, 2024, at Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, Roosevelt Island, NY.
Financial institutions continue to navigate an uncertain market while trying to generate new sources of deposits and revenue, all while ensuring that the customer experience remains exceptional. As we enter a new year with these challenges, Glia has outlined three emerging trends for success:
1. ROI and measurable value now define the tech evaluation process. Efficiency and ROI have always been top priorities within RFPs and ultimate tech decisions. In the current economic climate, ROI is now the top and defining priority that frames all other criteria. If technology cannot deliver measurable value, it likely won’t make the cut.
Financial institutions are looking closer at efficiency too. Efficiency doesn’t just mean a certain number of hours saved or FTE reallocation anymore. It’s about making interactions more meaningful. For example, simple call deflection is no longer enough when it comes to customer service; institutions are focusing on how to make interactions more valuable. Technology will increasingly be assessed by its ability to help institutions proactively grow deposits and loans and retain customers.
2. Utilizing a unified customer interaction platform drives both efficiency and a better customer experience. The disconnect between the call center, Digital Customer Service options (chat, audio, video) and automated chatbots is a significant drain on productivity and worse yet, a major source of friction for customers. Many financial institutions are seeking solutions that can bridge the gap and provide seamless, highly efficient service. A ‘ChannelLess’ platform that integrates all customer interactions allows financial institutions to meet customers at their point of need and stay with them through the entire journey, decreasing abandonment and driving up conversions.
A centralized interaction platform also can improve management, staffing and reporting – three challenges many financial institutions face today. Not only does such an approach allow institutions to facilitate a smoother, more effortless experience while increasing efficiencies and reducing costs, but it also empowers them to surface the right interaction at the right time.
3. Generative AI starts to deliver value. The hype and focus around generative AI is expected to continue into next year, with many institutions working to solidify use cases for where the technology makes sense. The opportunity is to leverage Generative AI to enhance, not replace, service workers.
Consider tools that offer AI-generated suggestions that help the service team guide customers with complex issues and elevate options that have been effective in similar scenarios. This can accelerate resolution and increase conversions. GenAI can also provide performance insight compared to peer organizations, identify trends as they are occurring in real time and offer progress updates that go beyond typical metrics.
“Efficiency has never been more critical, given the current economic climate combined with technologies that are delivering increasing value. Overcoming the substantial interaction disconnect between the call center, digital-first options and AI-powered chatbots has the unique ability to both increase ROI and also customer satisfaction. This is a prime opportunity for financial institutions in 2024. Combine that with generative AI use cases that elevate service capabilities and financial institutions can leverage technology to not only survive, but thrive in today’s challenging economic environment," said Justin DiPietro, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder at Glia.
For more information go to Measurable Value
Co-op Solutions is partnering with fintech company Plinqit to help credit unions earn deposits while members increase their savings.
“With their mission of improving people’s financial futures through technology, Plinqit’s purpose is deeply aligned with that of the credit union movement,” said Dean Michaels, President/CEO of Co-op. “Credit unions were early adopters of and investors in Plinqit, which partners with credit unions to help them accelerate a wide variety of initiatives – from advancing financial literacy while saving for major purchases to improving the member experience.”
Plinqit is one of several credit union fintech providers that have recently joined the Co-op Strategic Provider Program, designed to provide best-of-class products and services to the movement. The program streamlines a credit union’s procurement process by offering them access to pre-vetted vendors outside of Co-op’s core solution set, all at preferred commercial terms that have been pre-negotiated by Co-op. The program is a benefit offered at no charge to Co-op clients.
Platform Enables Member Savings Goal-Setting
Plinqit enables the member to securely link their Plinqit account to their credit union account, set a savings goal in Plinqit, and automatically set aside a small amount of money at a rate and schedule that they choose.
“Users tell us Plinqit is the easiest way to save as the money is kept out of sight and out of mind; 80 percent of users successfully reach their savings goals,” said Kathleen Craig, Founder and CEO of Plinqit. “And, because users earn money towards their goals via Plinqit’s gamified educational content, they are highly engaged users, which deepens their relationship with their credit union along the way.”
The partnership comes at a time when the average personal saving rate in the U.S. is 3.5 percent (July 2023), well below the decades-long average of 8.9 percent. Credit unions, too, are in need of cash, with a loan-to-share ratio of 81 percent (Q1 2023). While 11 points higher than one year prior, the ratio is still lower than pre-pandemic levels.
Co-op credit unions that chose to integrate Plinqit can expect a smooth implementation via their extensive list of digital banking integrations. Plinqit integrates today with Q2, Banno, CU Answers, Lumin and BankJoy, and they are adding integrations each quarter. Credit unions will also have the ability to cross-promote their own products and services on the Plinqit platform. Additionally, the Plinqit team can assist with applying for financial literacy grants as well as providing marketing support for branded campaigns, email programs and digital marketing strategies.
In addition to automating their top-of-mind savings goals, credit union members who engage with the Plinqit app experience the fun of gamified learning, all while tracking their progress via intuitive dashboards and visualizations.
Strategic Provider Program Participation – For Fintechs and Credit Unions
Fintech providers can learn more about joining the Co-op Strategic Provider Program at Co-op’s website. Co-op clients interested in connecting with providers can check out the “Meet our Partners” section of the program’s webpage. Clients can explore each provider’s profile to learn more about their solutions and submit an inquiry to hear about preferred commercial terms to which they may be entitled. The Plinqit profile page can be found here.
Trellance, a leading technology partner providing innovative analytics, cloud and talent solutions to credit unions, today announced that they will co-host EDGE, a first-of-its-kind industry conference for credit union industry professionals. EDGE will debut on May 6-7, 2024, in Nashville, Tennessee; additional hosts include the Filene Research Institute and Credit Union Data Exchange (CUDX).
EDGE seeks to unite credit union industry professionals with tech experts to share the latest innovations and industry trends. EDGE is dedicated to fostering a dynamic platform where technology enthusiasts, thought leaders and industry experts converge to:
In addition to the keynote speakers, EDGE is currently accepting submissions to be a breakout session speaker at EDGE 2024. Presentations on the following topics will be considered:
The Underground, hosted by Mitchell Stankovic & Associates, will kick off the general sessions at EDGE, with panelists focused on issues relevant in today's environment. The session will feature a debate about who’s responsible for ethics and values regarding generative AI and what’s taking place in the credit union space, as well as a discussion about using collaboration to sustain a cooperative model. Stay tuned for future updates announcing thought leaders for the panel.
“There’s a hunger in our industry for education and innovation,” said Tom Davis, President and CEO of Trellance. “We saw an opportunity to provide for those needs by joining with other industry leaders to host a conference that will speak to the latest technology innovations in the credit union sphere and deliver thought leadership content on a range of topics important to our attendees.”
EDGE is currently accepting sponsors at all levels. EDGE sponsors will receive visibility with credit union and tech industry leaders and the opportunity to be present at the inaugural EDGE event, securing them the right of first refusal for future EDGE events.
Learn more about EDGE here – registration will be opening soon. Submissions for breakout sessions can be submitted here. Each session will be 30 minutes total, including Q&A.
Economic volatility, unpredictable deposit flight and widespread consumer anxiety have presented community banks and credit unions with unique challenges this year. As we enter 2024, institutions are determining how to serve their changing customer base while optimizing margins and keeping up with technological advances. NCR Voyix identified the following trends to watch as we prepare for a new year.
Community institutions will prioritize financial fitness initiatives. Top-of-mind issues for consumers include inflation, loan interest rates and rising cost of living, not to mention—the resumption of student loan payments, an added financial burden that recently reemerged. Many will feel the stress of these compounding factors next year, and increased defaults are expected.
The banks and credit unions that are taking steps now to prioritize financial wellness programs and options for their customers and members will be best positioned to support their communities and earn back trust. This is especially crucial as younger generations—millennials, Gen Z and Gen Alpha—determine where their loyalty lies. Those that can use data to personalize financial fitness and offer helpful resources will be best positioned for success.
Payments take center stage. As money movement options continue to multiply, from mobile wallets to real-time payments and FedNow, banks and credit unions will be tasked with how to optimally enable choice. Not all institutions can and should implement different innovations right away, but they should have a strategy and plan for which payments methods are most important for their institution’s unique risk profile and customer base. Looking for ways to provide immediate value based on real use cases is critical to success. Those that are able to deliver flexibility for how to pay and get paid (especially when it comes to business payments) will come out ahead.
More AI use cases will emerge. While both the hype and hesitations around generative AI are sure to continue into next year, real AI-powered use cases will materialize across the institution. AI has the power to optimize efficiencies and more effectively analyze data enterprise wide. People will not be replaced but augmented and empowered to refocus efforts on more growth-focused customer advisory and strategic activities.
Much like with payments, the urgency isn’t so much around immediate implementation but on developing a solid strategy backed by data and based on the needs of the institution and community it serves.
Gig work gains momentum—and causes issues. As more Gen Zers show a preference toward being their own boss and economic difficulties force people to take extra steps to make ends meet, gig work is seeing a significant uptick. However, these side hustles often come with financial intricacies or limitations that go unnoticed until an issue arises, such as 1099s, lack of medical coverage, no retirement savings plans, etc. More banks and credit unions will determine where they can step in and support these gig workers, helping them embrace work the way they want while still carving out a strong financial future. This is another area where community banks and credit unions can forge lasting trust, especially with younger generations.
Branches remain the elephant in the boardroom. As community institutions look to cut costs and digital adoption rises, the branch’s purpose and relevance will continue to be called into question. However, branches remain a foothold across communities, and the most profitable and meaningful interactions still typically take place in the branch.
However, banks and credit unions will continue seeking ways to digitally optimize branch interactions, reducing costs and complexities and automating routine interactions to save tellers time for developing relationships. It’s not branch or digital but branch and digital, which is why enabling connected experiences that can cross the channels (such as during the account opening process) will be so critical.
“Even though many of the challenges experienced in 2023 will likely linger in the new year, community banks and credit unions across the country are taking steps to invest in the strategies and technology necessary to better serve their customers and members and compete,” said Douglas Brown, president of digital banking for NCR Voyix. “Those who embrace digital-first banking, which encourages innovation and the use of data to personalize all interactions regardless of channel, will find themselves taking back and solidifying trust, which continues to be the most critical factor when it comes to customer loyalty and success.”
Abound Credit Union, a long-term partner of USA Cares, is proud to continue supporting their mission to assist military families in crisis and help them create a foundation for long-term stability. Earlier today, Abound presented a check during the Hardin County Chamber of Commerce meeting. In aggregate, these donations have totaled $505,037 since 2015, including $73,137 year-to-date.
These funds directly help military families remain in their homes, pay their utility bills, and buy food and fuel. So far, Abound Credit Union and its members have helped approximately 70 military families in 2023 alone. USA Cares is ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our military and veteran communities are not forgotten and have access to the resources they need.
“Abound has been proudly serving our military members and the community that supports them for over 70 years,” said Ray Springsteen, Abound Credit Union President and CEO. “Our financial strength allows us to build long-term partnerships with organizations like USA Cares, which directly supports veterans and military families. Together, we’re making a real difference.”
USA Cares originally started as a grassroots partnership of the Fort Knox Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, Kroger Food Stores – Mid-South Division, and WAVE-3 TV, the NBC affiliate in Louisville. Abound Credit Union, formerly known as Fort Knox Federal Credit Union, was one of the earliest supporters of USA Cares and continues to give towards their mission along with many of the credit union’s generous members.
A portion of the donations to the organization were dues paid by Abound Credit Union for new credit union members who joined as part of the USA Cares Patriot Club field of membership. In 2014, USA Cares launched the Patriot Club which is open to anyone wishing to support the organization’s mission and donate to supporting military families. All dues and gifts to the Patriot Club go directly to sustain USA Cares’ support of military families.
For more information about USA Cares or Abound Credit Union, please visit www.usacares.org or www.aboundcu.com, respectively.
Financial Plus Credit Union is excited to announce the two winners of its ‘Billboards of Inclusion: Minority Business Spotlight’ contest: Dr. Aisha Harris with Harris Family Health and Cherie Long with Heart of the City Development. The billboards for both organizations went up in their respective communities at the end of October and will be on display for four weeks.
“We’re proud to provide a platform for exceptional minority business owners to showcase their talents and contributions to the community,” said Allen Williams, Diversity, Equity, and Business Partner at Financial Plus Credit Union. “We received over 50 applications from local business owners, and we look forward to the continued success of this contest. At Financial Plus we are committed to finding innovative ways to support and uplift underrepresented voices in our community.”
Harris Family Health, located in Flint, proudly stands as the first direct primary care clinic in the area, offering an exclusive membership-based medical service. Under leadership of Dr. Aisha Harris, a dedicated family medicine practitioner, the clinic remains committed to delivering accessible, high- quality, and all-encompassing healthcare solutions to individuals facing barriers to traditional medical services. What sets Harris Family Health apart is its provision of complete primary care services without billing patients or requiring patients to have health insurance.
Following her experience raising a daughter with special needs, Cherie Long identified a significant disparity in the support and resources accessible to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This realization motivated her to establish the Heart of the City Development Center in Saginaw. The center orchestrates a range of complimentary social gatherings concentrating on essential skill development and offers a secure environment where individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can transition from family care to active participation in the workforce.
American Banker announced today the naming of Leigh Brady, State Employees’ Credit Union (SECU) president and CEO, to its annual list of the “Most Powerful Women in Credit Unions.” This initiative shines a spotlight on the brightest, most forward-thinking individuals in the credit union industry and expands American Banker’s recognition programs to celebrate the women leaders who are driving innovation, catering to underserved communities, and guiding the future of financial services.
Launched in 2022, the Most Powerful Women in Credit Unions is part of American Banker’s continued coverage of the progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout financial services, and expands on their mission of supporting, empowering, celebrating, and advancing women in the financial industry.
“With unwavering passion and determination, our honorees are turning obstacles into opportunities while raising the bar for success,” says Chana Schoenberger, editor-in-chief of American Banker. “Their influential decisions are forging new paths for the future leaders of credit unions.”
“Receiving this recognition alongside so many prominent leaders within the credit union industry is humbling and quite an honor,” said Brady, who was named by the SECU Board of Directors in June 2023 to lead the member-owned cooperative, becoming the first female to hold the position. “I fell in love with the Credit Union over 36 years ago – our mission and our people. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of support I've received from within SECU and outside of our organization. It is a privilege to lead the nation’s second largest credit union and I remain committed to our heritage, mission, and values while innovating to meet the changing needs of our members.”
“On behalf of our Board of Directors, we offer Leigh our heartfelt congratulations,” said Mona Moon, SECU board chair. “She has been a valuable and integral part of the Credit Union for so many years and has a unique understanding of our mission and our members. Leigh is strategically and thoughtfully guiding our work to further strengthen SECU and enhance service to our more than 2.7 million members.”
Read 2023 The Most Powerful Women in Credit Unions for more information.
Author: Mike Lawson
Married to a most gorgeous and wonderful wife, raising 5 kiddos (including twins!), enjoy helping others tell their stories, and love surfing SoCal waves. Keep it simple.