ICUL President & CEO Murray Williams Authors Guest Column, "Iowa Credit Unions Are Committed to Local Communities"
March 22, 2022
This article was originally published in The Gazette.
At a time when locally-owned financial institutions are needed more than ever, options are getting slimmer for Iowans. In an eye-opening statistic from 2010-2020, Iowa banks closed a net 122 branches around the state over that time.
In stark contrast, cooperatively-owned Iowa credit unions have doubled down on their commitment to serving all corners of our state. During the same 10 years that banks closed 122 branches, Iowa credit unions added a net 40 new branches. These credit union branches spanned both rural communities and urban centers alike, including many locations that were at risk of becoming banking deserts.
With more national lenders dominating the market, Iowans are losing a local connection with their financial partner and risk their lender not understanding their needs. Credit unions have become that local financial lifeline when Iowans and small businesses have needed us most.
Credit unions’ commitment to helping Iowans in local communities is evident in our industry’s state legislative priorities, which include addressing childcare challenges, helping Iowans develop better savings habits, growing Iowa’s workforce and encouraging affordable housing options.
Many Iowans know the importance of saving money, but often are faced with the reality of paying bills rather than building a financial safety net. A 2021 study showed 25% of Americans had no emergency savings. A top policy priority for Iowa credit unions this legislative session is to allow for “Prize-linked Savings” programs in Iowa. These innovative programs are permitted for credit unions and banks in 34 states and are a proven way to creatively impact the savings crisis in Iowa at no cost to consumers or the state. What if Iowa banks and credit unions worked together to help countless Iowa families financially prepare for unexpected expenses or deal with the aftermath of a global pandemic? The program is a win for everyone, and we hope to work with legislative leaders to make it a reality in Iowa.
Credit unions want to help their members improve their financial lives, and that also includes affordable childcare and housing. Childcare is essential for a growing workforce and economy, and access to childcare has become even more difficult during the pandemic as childcare centers have closed. Similar to communities facing financial deserts, we must ensure local communities have robust childcare options to support their workforce.
Additionally, we must address the lack of affordable housing that plagues many areas of our state. We applaud the Governor’s directing of $100 million in federal coronavirus relief funding to various housing programs last year but know there is more work to be done. Credit unions stand ready as partners to help Iowans get into their first home and start building equity. Iowa credit unions are actively partnering with organizations to support legislation that would increase affordable housing options, restore state funding for matched savings accounts and establish loan funds for affordable mortgages and home repair loans.
As not-for-profit financial cooperatives, Iowa’s credit union movement is committed to helping Iowans save more of their hard-earned money and help grow our Iowa communities. We look forward to working with the Governor and legislators on these initiatives to support our local communities and the 1.4 million members we serve.