Credit Unions Have Come a Long Way By Pierre Joujon-Roche Credit unions owe their structure to Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, a Bavarian mayor who in 1864 organized a credit union to relieve the plight of impoverished farmers and workers in his community. The credit union movement spread from Europe to Canada in 1900 addressing the same problem: people were poor and couldn’t lift themselves out of poverty because they couldn’t get loans from banks and traditional sources or were charged exorbitant interest rates by loan sharks. The first United States credit union opened in 1909 in Manchester, New Hampshire based on the “credit union concept,” which is for people to pool their money to lend to each other for the betterment of all. The movement spread slowly in the United States until 1934 when Congress passed the Federal Credit Union Act. Today, over 12,000 U.S. credit unions serve more than 70 million members. In California, about 780 credit union serve nearly 7.6 million members. Credit unions are either licensed under state or chartered under federal law. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) regulates federally chartered credit unions and provides insurance up to $100,000 for members’ accounts. Credit unions are nonprofit institutions that provide many of the same consumer services as banks including savings and checking accounts, loans for cars, homes, education and personal needs, credit cards and IRA and savings certificates. Unlike banks, credit unions can’t issue stock and don’t have outside stockholders or paid directors. While credit unions have paid, professional staff members, they are controlled by a volunteer policy-making board of directors elected from the membership. Banks strive to maximize dividends for stockholders and owners, whereas credit unions’ main mission is to provide the best financial services for their members who are both customers and owners. To belong to a credit union, individuals must fall within that credit union’s “field of membership.” This defines who the credit union serves and includes groups of people sharing “common bonds,” i.e. people working for the same company or organization such as a church or university. The credit union philosophy can be summed up in the credo of the movement: people helping people. One of the longer established credit unions in the San Fernando Valley is Matadors Federal Credit Union. It was founded 35 years ago by a group of seven professors to serve the Cal State University Northridge community. The first office was on campus in the Business Department, followed by a small house on North Etiwanda Avenue. In 1987, the credit union moved off campus to their present location at 9401 Reseda Boulevard at the corner of Vincennes Street in Northridge. Over the past 35 years, MFCU’s membership has grown from several hundred to over 10,000 members with an asset base of $60 million. The membership is comprised primarily of CSUN faculty, staff, alumni and students as well as employees at twenty valley companies called SEGs or select employee groups. Several CSUN professors sit on MFCU’s volunteer Board of Directors; and this past summer longtime director and Associate Dean at CSUN’s Business School, Dr. Bill Roberts, was honored as the “1997 Volunteer of the Year” by the National Association of Federal Credit Unions (NAFCU). The credit union proudly assisted many of its CSUN community members in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake with low-interest loans to rebuild their homes and offices. In many cases, the money was distributed to the members on the same day they applied! MFCU’s quick action is an example of the credit union philosophy of people helping people. The credit union also donated to the community a classroom at CSUN’s Business School called the Matadors Federal Credit Union room and has joined the Business Partners Program at the CSUN Business School that aids small businesses in the community. Pierre Joujon-Roche is with the marketing department at Matadors Federal Credit Union. For more information, contact MFCU at (818) 993-6328.