What is a Credit Union?
Credit Unions are member-owned financial cooperatives. Modeled after the European “People’s Banks”, credit unions began to be formed in the North America in the early 1900’s. In 1900, Alphonse Desjardins organized a credit union (caisse populaire) in Levis, Quebec. He helped to organize other credit unions, including the first one in the United States. In 1921, Edward J. Filene and Roy F. Bergengren created the Credit Union National Extension Bureau. At that time there were only 199 U.S. credit unions, but during the next 13 years, the credit union movement grew dramatically. By 1935, 39 states had credit union laws and 3,372 credit unions were serving 641,800 members. At a meeting at Estes Park, Colorado, in 1934, the Credit Union National Administration (CUNA) was formed as a confederation of state leagues. In the same year, Congress finally passed a federal credit union act, which permitted credit unions to be organized anywhere in the United States.
Your Credit Union
In 1952, the employees of International Paper decided to form their own financial cooperative where they could save and borrow money, based on their reputation and character, not solely on their financials. Named for their location in Georgetown and the main product of paper that the mill made, Georgetown Kraft Credit Union was chartered and began operating. Every member of the credit union has an equal share in the credit union and an annual meeting of the membership is held to discuss the business involving the credit union.
In the 1980s, GKCU opened membership to other Select Employer Groups (SEGs) to expand with branches in Andrews and Kingstree to serve Williamsburg County.
In 2000, Georgetown Kraft changed to a community charter allowing anyone who lives, works or attends school in Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties to join the credit union. Shortly after that a branch was opened in Pawleys Island to serve residents along the Waccamaw Neck and in 2016, a new main office was opened in Georgetown to serve as a second location for growing membership.
Currently, GKCU serves over 14,000 members, employs 62 workers, has 5 branches, and is over $100 million in asset size. One fundamental philosophy that GKCU employees take very seriously is their need to be a partner in the community. GKCU contributes countless volunteer hours and considerable financial donations to area charities, educational institutions and community organizations. In addition, GKCU offers scholarships to area high school seniors and in-class money management workshops.
What Makes a Credit Union Different from other Financial Institutions?
Credit unions are member-owned. Each member owns exactly one share of ownership of the credit union with a one-vote structure for any and all elections or votes that are taken for the operation of the credit union. Profits from the credit union are returned back to the members either through higher returns on investments, lower rates on loans, lower (or no fees) on services or dividends deposited directly to the members’ accounts. For-profits banks return profits back to stakeholders first, based on their financial investments into ownership of the bank. The main mission of credit unions are to service their members; not a small group of investors.
Who Started Credit Unions?
Edward J. Filene, a Boston merchant, was a progressive thinker for his time. He instituted benefit programs for his employees, established minimum wages for female workers, and advocated a five-day, 40-hour week. A banking commissioner, Pierre Jay, learned that several groups of employees had started their own savings and loan organizations. He began a chain of correspondence with Desjardins which resulted in a 1908 conference in Boston in which Desjardins, Jay, Filene, and other public-spirited citizens participated. Working with Desjardins, Jay prepared the legislation for what was to become the first general state credit union act in the United States.