Credit Unions Investing in Other Cooperatives

Responding to the listing of America’s top 100 cooperatives by total revenue, I received the following comment from Leo Sammallahti, marketing manager for the Coop Exchange:

“Credit unions do fantastic charitable work, but do we just try to do the type of charitable work that conventional banks do, but just more and better? How about we take a different, distinct approach. Let’s help our members help themselves by fostering creation of new cooperatives. Isn’t that what Filene was all about? If the 120 million member strong credit unions are not doing this, who is? We could find great ideas and energy among those members if we look for it.”

A Case Study of a Credit Union Investing in Coops

Leo then sent me this example:

“Matthew Cropp from the Vermont Employee Ownership Center recently rediscovered a little-known credit union statute applicable to state-chartered credit unions in eight states (Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and Vermont). It allows credit unions to make equity investments into cooperatives, including worker cooperatives.

As a result of this discovery, one of the largest credit unions in Vermont (VSECU) has begun to offer equity to cooperatives in its region—an unprecedented move as most credit unions, if they offer any financing for coops, offer debt financing.

The Vermont statue’s language specifies that state-chartered credit unions are authorized to invest equity of up to 10% of the shares, deposits, and surplus of the credit union into cooperatives. These investments would not count against the 12.25% member business lending cap that most credit unions are currently subject to.

VSECU has decided to make 10% of their total equity available for equity investment in coops, roughly equal to $8.5M in 2020. It appears that the VSECU is the only credit union in any of these eight states that has started investing using this statute. Its co-op capital tool kit can be found at this link

Consequentially, cooperative advocates are working to identify credit unions in the other eight states to follow VSECU’s lead and invest equity capital in coops. There is also talk of lobbying other state’s legislatures, then eventually congress to “follow suit by broadening the range of credit unions that are legally permitted to make such investments.”

Are there other instances of this coop investment effort readers can share?

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