Credit unions were first created in Europe in the mid-19th century. These non-profit financial cooperatives have existed in the United States since 1908, starting in Manchester, New Hampshire. Heartland Credit Union, a longtime business underwriter of WORT 89.9 FM Community Radio, was established in February 1936 right here in downtown Madison.
Heartland’s first employee, appropriately enough, was named John Cash. Heartland now has over 20,000 member-owners spread across 13 southwestern Wisconsin counties, plus eastern Iowa. In order to learn more about this WORT supporter, I posed a few questions to Robin Marohn, Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at Heartland Credit Union.
Mrazek at WORT: How does your non-profit industry stay viable in the competitive financial market of the 21st century? Does digital technology, for example, pose particular challenges or opportunities for credit unions such as Heartland?
Marohn at Heartland: The biggest challenge for credit unions right now is regulation. It’s not that we don’t like regulation – obviously, we know it’s necessary. But a lot of the new regulations were the result of things that happened prior to and since the 2008 recession – things that were, for the most part, not caused by credit unions. Yet, we’re lumped in with the solution and it’s often hard for smaller financial cooperatives to keep up. Fortunately, Heartland positioned itself early on to manage new regulation in a responsible way. Digital technology has also allowed us to “level the playing field.”
WORT: Do you have any concerns about Heartland getting too big to remain community-oriented?
Heartland: Not at all. It’s not the size but the culture of the organization that will keep us true to our roots.
WORT: So how does such a large financial institution continue to meet its mission to serve people, not profit?
Heartland: Credit unions are a financial cooperative. We try to implement the “Seven Cooperative Principles” throughout our organization. It’s a great tool for making sure decisions are made with the best interests of the member-owners in mind.
WORT: Approximately 92 million Americans are members of credit unions now. I’m surprised that more of us don’t avoid banks, given the recent global financial crisis – which was largely caused by rapacious US banking practices and a stunning lack of federal as well as state government regulation.
Heartland: Frankly, it’s a mystery to us, too, why more people don’t avoid banks and flock to credit unions. Interestingly, people seem to know the difference between – say – a grocery store cooperative and a for-profit grocer. But they have trouble with the distinction between a credit union and bank. It’s an age-old problem for credit unions!
WORT: As a loyal WORT underwriter, what value does Heartland Credit Union find in community radio and similar independent, non-profit media outlets?
Heartland: Credit unions are essentially grass-roots organizations. So are independent media outlets, so there’s a natural symbiosis there. But the main reason for our long-term support of WORT is because our member-owners have asked for it. They comment regularly about their appreciation for their credit union’s support of WORT.
Thank you to Heartland Credit Union and its many WORT-supporting member-owners!
For more information go to: https://www.heartlandcu.org/