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  • Writer's pictureJohn San Filippo

MDT E3 2024: MCUL’s Corkery Provides Keynote

By John San Filippo


Member Driven Technologies (MDT), which was named Tech CUSO of the Year by the 2023 Finopotamus Tekkie Awards, held its annual E3 (Engage, Educate, Evolve) user conference May 20-22 in Detroit. Patty Corkery, CEO of the Michigan Credit Union League, provided the keynote address for the event. Finopotamus was on hand to capture the highlights of this session.


State of the Movement 

Patty Corkery

Corkery opened with a look at the state of the credit union movement globally. “Around the world, there are more than 86,000 credit unions,” she told the audience. “We know this number has gone down. There's certainly been consolidation and I'll talk about that, but it's still an impressive number.” She added that there are credit unions in 118 countries outside the U.S. on all six inhabited continents.


She also noted that while the international credit union movement supports more than 375 million members, that number only represents about 12% penetration. “Still a lot of work to do when we're talking about just 12%; there's still a lot to do,” she continued. “I know credit unions are so focused on getting younger members in and that's where [technology] is going to be a huge help, because we know everyone wants to do something on their phone in less than 30 seconds.”


Corkery then honed in on the U.S. credit union space, providing the following statistics:


  • There are currently about 4,700 credit unions..

  • Credit unions represent more than 140 million members.

  • Credit unions employ nearly 360,000 people.

  • There are more than 1,000 CUSOs.


Supporting Smaller Credit Unions


Corkery then presented a slide that showed U.S. credit unions broken down by assets size. “I look at this slide and I look at the asset sizes of credit unions and every time I see this, even though I know it's true, it still surprises me,” she told the audience, referring to the fact that more than 2,200 of those 4,700 credit unions have total assets less than $50 million. “You don't think about that because we talk a lot about billion-dollar credit units, but a lot of our industry is small.” She also noted that there are nearly 1,000 more credit unions between $50 million and $150 million in assets.


“What does that mean for [small credit unions] when we're here talking about technology? What does that mean for them when we talk about the cost of technology?” she continued. “Trying to keep up with the big banks down the street and with the big credit units down the street is challenging. So, what I challenge the partners in this room is, how can we support our smaller credit unions?”


Corkery admitted that while some may see small credit unions as a lost cause, she has a different take. “I've talked to some people with an attitude like, they're just eventually going to merge; they're never going to survive,” she told the audience. “I hate to hear that because first, I don't think that's true. I've talked with a lot of credit union CEOs and a lot of credit union boards that are proud to stay independent. They have no interest in merging.”


On how small credit unions can thrive, she explained, “The key is: Are they supporting their community? Are they doing what their members need? Are they fulfilling their mission as a credit union? If the answer is yes, I'm proud to go into a $10 million credit union.” Corkery called on everyone present – credit unions and tech vendors alike – to do what they can to support smaller credit unions.


On Market Consolidation


A look at smaller credit unions inevitably led to a discussion of market consolidation. “We all know that the number of credit unions is shrinking,” said Corkery. “This is something that people in the industry talk about all the time. ‘Oh my gosh, when I started, there were 400 credit unions in Michigan and now we're down to 187. Tomorrow we'll be at 182.’ But I talk about consolidation in a very positive way whenever I talk about it. The number to focus on is our membership. If membership is still rising, I don't care. Consolidation can happen.”


She added that each credit union needs to chart its own course. Some will decide to remain independent while others will choose to merge. “[Consolidation] is going to continue. It's not a bad thing. It's our membership numbers that matter.”


Perhaps surprisingly, one area where credit unions are not consolidating is in number of branches. Corkery presented a slide that showed since 2020, while banks have shuttered more than 8,600 branches, credit unions have opened nearly 1,000 new ones. She noted that there is a relationship between the bank closures and credit union branch openings.


“Several credit unions have bought abandoned bank branches,” said Corkery. “Why not? When banks abandoned these rural areas or these urban areas where all you have are payday lenders, we're seeing more and more credit unions open branches in those areas. The number of branches in credit union land continues to increase.”


The Struggle Is Real


“I don't care if you're a $20 million credit union or over a billion dollars, compliance is a huge issue for credit unions,” said Corkery, “so I want to spend some time talking about all of the noise in the credit union industry, because it's really hard to be a credit union right now. It really is.”


Corkery further explained that while pressure from the banking industry has been constant since she joined the industry in 2000, the push-back by banks is becoming louder and stronger. “We're seeing articles that say credit unions have lost their way. Credit unions are straying away from their mission. Credit union should be taxed,” she said.


The irony is that, while banks continue their campaign against credit unions, they’re apparently happy to sell their entire institutions to credit unions. “When [credit unions buying banks] first started happening, it was a negative,” said Corkery. “Credit unions were like, ‘Why are you buying a bank? You're going to tap the bankers on the shoulder and tick them off.’ To me, it’s a great thing. Would I rather have two credit unions merge and come lead from two to one, or would I rather have a credit union buy a bank, turn those customers to members, turn those bank employees to credit union employees and stay in a community? It's a no brainer.”


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