Alternatives CEO, Tristram Coffin, Accepts Credit Union of the Year Award
On behalf of the almost 10,000 members of Alternatives, thank you for selecting Alternatives Federal Credit Union as the Community Credit Union of the Year. I’d like to thank and acknowledge the staff of CUNA, the Alternatives Board and the employees of Alternatives, especially Rebekah Scott, Mary Beth Bunge, Keith Martin and Karl Graham who helped put our award entry together. As professionals and volunteers, you’re here because you believe in power of the credit union idea. In fact, you are probably as deserving of this recognition as we are because of the difference you make every day. That is why we are truly humbled by this recognition, and accept it as but a small example of the transformative potential of Community Credit Unions that is exemplified by all who are here today.
Beyond being a “club” of sorts that exists to meet the borrowing and saving needs of members, a Community Credit Union has a bigger purpose.. ..and a bigger opportunity- to improve quality of life within its service area. Like all credit unions Alternatives emphasizes the traditional credit union attributes of people helping people and superior service, but to us those are merely prerequisites- they don’t create the advantage of having a unique position in the mind of prospective members nor do they inspire the passion and commitment that enables us to speak of a Credit Union movement. We embrace our status as a credit union and the cultural legacy it brings knowing that credit unions began as a pretty radical innovation to get money into the hands of those traditionally shunned by banks. For us, the call to serve our community and align capital with justice is really a resort to the first principles of the credit union movement.
Alternatives mission is to build wealth and create economic opportunity for underserved people and communities. It gives us clear focus- we exist in order to serve the underserved. Through our Credit Path model of individual development we help people progress from being transactors outside the financial system to being successful savers, borrowers and ultimately owners of assets such as homes and small businesses, providing rungs on the financial ladder that people climb toward their vision of a better future. While we serve and rely upon the support of people at all income levels, we design our products with our low income members in mind, and complement those with community programs such as free tax preparation which served over 2,000 filers last year, a Business CENTS program that provided training to over 300 potential small business owners, free financial counseling to more than 600, Individual Development Accounts with matched savings that are responsible for the purchase of well over 100 homes in our area, a Student Credit Union touching every elementary school in the local district, and many, many others.
One of things I’m most proud of is our efforts to build community through diversity and inclusion. Periodically, we hold breakfast meetings with community leaders representing the broad range of diversity in our area- African American, Latino, LGBT, Rural residents, disabled, etc. to understand their challenges and inform our work. While some early feedback took on a critical tone, today these community leaders are among the most ardent fans of Alternatives, and serve as ambassadors who aggregate support for the credit union and help it grow. Today, as many communities are coming apart, Community credit unions have the power to connect people across divides of culture, politics, age, ethnicity and economic wellbeing to become thriving hubs of more prosperous communities.
We will use this recognition to highlight the important role Credit Unions can play in creating thriving communities with financial opportunity for all. We believe that the circumstances you’re born into or which you find yourself in today need not be overly determinant of the outcome of your life.
We believe that if you work hard and take responsibility for yourself you should be accorded the dignity of a living wage. And we believe that a Credit Union such as Alternatives can help people and communities lift themselves up in manner that affirms both the dignity of all human beings and the ability of every individual to make a difference.
So we will venture on- continuing our tradition of innovation and leadership in Community Development finance, while we strive to offer the sophistication and ease of use associated with a much larger financial institution. We hope that you may find inspiration in Alternatives efforts to make a difference in our community, just as all of you have inspired us. Thank you once again CUNA for the award, and thank you more importantly for the support you’ve shown for one small credit union that visualizes its future, and that of all Community Development Credit Unions, as leading an economic movement of empowered communities with financial freedom for everyone. – Tristram Coffin