From the Field: Democratic Governance Makes a Difference

Hi Chip. I recently joined a credit union and received something in the mail I thought I’d share with you.

The following was in a welcome letter:

We want you to know that you are much more than a customer – you now belong to a family of 200,000 members who cooperatively own [credit union’s name]. Ownership gives you an equal voice to elect our Board of Directors…

How many other credit unions encourage this participation? 


One Reply to “From the Field: Democratic Governance Makes a Difference”

  1. Voter participation in large cooperatives can be increased from the low level it is in the US.

    I’m from Finland, where the most widely used bank is the OP cooperative, with 2 million members out of a population of 5,5 million. Around 15% of the members of the largest branch voted in the board election, where any member who would get a signature from 3 other members could stand as a candidate. From hundreds of candidates, 10 receiving most votes were elected – the votes are very contested!

    This does not require a long tradition – Tipton and Coseley Building Society in the UK increased their voter participation more than ten-fold, from 1.7% to 18% between 2002 and 2009 by introducing donations per vote cast, online voting and pre-paid reply envelopes.

    Here are few ideas how credit unions could do this in the US:

    1. Contested elections

    Have contested board elections. There are many credit unions that do, and they seem to be doing fine. Research should be conducted on what is the effect – would be great to hear your thoughts on contested board elections in credit unions.

    2. Cooperate to increase member participation

    Cooperation between credit unions by having them coordinate the the vote on same day in all or many credit unions, and work together to campaign to get members to vote. Maybe the shared ATM network could be used to advertise members to stand for board or vote in board elections by showing a message encouraging them to do so when they use the ATM and wait for their cash?

    3. Pay credit union board members according to voter participation rates

    Instead of board members being unpaid volunteers, pay them according to voter participation of the members. So if 10% of members vote, each board member receives 100$ per monthly meeting. If 20% vote, they receive 200$, etc.

    To get paid more, one would have to encourage members to hold one accountable. There’s a lack of incentives for members to vote as #coop membership grows. Incentivising elected representatives to increase participation could help. It could incentivise engaging contests, as more votes for candidates not elected would increase the pay for those elected. Might be that it would backfire, and members would be *less* likely to vote if it meant paying the board more! But nevertheless, it could be tested in a low-risk way.

    It would be a performance-related pay model designed uniquely to cooperatives that could not be adopted in conventional businesses.

    Leo Sammallahti
    Coop enthusiast from Finland, where 90% of the population is a member of at least one cooperative

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