Credit Where It’s Due: International Credit Union Day, 18 October 2018


Credit Where It’s Due: International Credit Union Day, 18 October 2018

The story of credit unions is the story of a simple but effective idea: people pooling their money and making loans to each other.

Credit unions evolved from the cooperative activities of early 19th century Europe. The first union was marketing cooperative in 1844, organised by a group of workers in England. That same year in Germany, Victor Aime Huber was developing and publicising early European cooperative theories, leading to the idea of credit societies.

Moved by the crop failure and famine that had devastated Germany in 1846–1847, Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen created the first true credit unions in the mid-19th century.

After organising a cooperatively owned mill and bakery, Schulze-Delitzsch founded the first “people’s bank” in 1852 to provide credit to entrepreneurs in the city. Raiffeisen established a credit society in Flammersfeld, Germany in 1849 that depended on the charity of wealthy men for its support.

In 1864 he organised a new credit union for farmers along the principles of cooperative interdependence, a community-first mentality and a volunteer management structure that is still fundamental today. The credit societies in Germany and Italy were the forerunners of the large cooperative ‘banks’ across Europe today.

The Idea Goes West

Credit unions spread around the world. In the early 1900s Alphonse and Dorimene Desjardins started a credit union (caisse populaire) in Lévis, Quebec, Canada. Alphonse, and Americans Edward A. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren, established credit unions in the United States.

First Credit Union Day

As credit unions grew, so did the desire for an annual occasion to acknowledge its role in creating opportunity for their members and communities and the achievements of pioneers who laid the foundation.

On January 17, 1927, the Credit Union League of Massachusetts celebrated the first official holiday for credit union members and workers. They selected January 17 as it was the birthday of America’s “Apostle of Thrift,” Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), who early founders believed symbolised “the life and teaching embodied in the spirit and purpose of credit unions.”

Ironically, rapid growth in North America meant people were either too busy to celebrate or too new to the movement to recognise the celebration’s significance. Credit Union Day quietly disappeared.

A Second Chance

In 1948, the U.S. Credit Union National Association (CUNA) initiated a new national Credit Union Day celebration. CUNA and CUNA Mutual Insurance Society set aside the third Thursday of October as the national day of observance. By then, many more of America’s credit union leaders believed it would bring people together to reflect upon its history and achievements to promote the credit union idea nationwide.

Credit unions, state credit union leagues in the United States and many informal credit union chapters in each state were encouraged to celebrate the new holiday in some way. It raised funds for movement causes and paid homage to the men and women who had dedicated their lives to developing credit unions development.

Sending a Message Around the World

During the 1950s, CUNA’s World Extension Department provided technical assistance and philosophical guidance for credit union developments worldwide. So many countries had established credit union movements that by 1964, CUNA International was launched.

New movements joined the credit union family and a growing number of people wanted to celebrate the uniqueness and unity with a holiday that could be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of religion, political beliefs, cultural differences or language. Credit unions and leagues distributed publications, banners, slogans and kits. Credit Union Day became an international celebration.

By 1971, substantial worldwide credit union progress led to the creation of World Council of Credit Unions, to assist others in establishing and maintaining viable credit union movements across the globe. In Canada, Australia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the South Pacific, national and regional credit union federations and confederations were established to support and endorse credit union development. World Council created the first International Credit Union Day materials more than 30 years ago. They continue to provide ICU Day resources to credit unions and associations throughout the world today.

Where and How We Celebrate

Members worldwide celebrate this day in a variety of ways, including sponsoring open houses, picnics, fairs, festivals and parades; others hold athletic competitions and essay or art contests for young members. Public gatherings with visiting dignitaries have attracted media attention and public involvement, as have educational and public service events.

As your credit union joins in this unique and exciting celebration, remember that you are joined by 235 million members in 109 countries who also recognise and celebrate the credit union difference!