Don’t Bank On It.

IMG_20160221_164137I have never been a member of a Mennonite Credit Union.* When I lived close enough for it to make sense, I wasn’t eligible. Once I was eligible, it was no longer convenient. I was once a member of a community credit union but that was years ago and far away.

Never having been a member, I can’t say that I’ve ever really cared about the inner workings and politics of the Mennonite Savings and Credit Union, or any other Mennonite Credit Union.

At least – I didn’t care until I flipped over the most recent issue of the Canadian Mennonite and found myself wondering just who had approved that full page advertisement and what they could possibly have been thinking.

What’s clear from the ad is that the board and senior leadership of the MSCU wants to drop the name Mennonite from its title and replace it with Kindred.

But being a credit union, decisions like that are made by the membership, not by management. Hence, the ad. The ad seeks to persuade the membership to vote in favour of the change.

Now, never mind that the MSCU chose to use a national Mennonite news magazine for what is essentially a very local issue concerning only those couple thousand Mennos (and non-Mennos) in southern Ontario who are members of the credit union.

No, wait – do mind it. I live in Toronto and people everywhere else in Canada (including Kitchener-Waterloo) are constantly complaining about their news being dominated with local Toronto issues. As if we think that everyone else should care about the controversies surrounding our school board (honestly, we don’t think that and also, we don’t control what gets on your local news stations. Have it out with them).  But now we have a little credit union with a membership base pretty focused around Kitchener-Waterloo and it’s like they’re suddenly declaring KW the centre of the Mennonite universe.

I gotta say, if I lived in Winnipeg, I’d be pretty upset about that.

But even putting all that aside, I wouldn’t have cared much at all if the ad had been written in the spirit of “dignity, respect and concern” promised on the MSCU’s membership information page.

Maybe I have a naive understanding of dignity and respect but I think that it should even extend to people in disagreement with the leadership. In my mind, such people would have their concerns heard, understood, and respected to the point of engaged discussion. I’d actually have read it with interest had the back page of the Canadian Mennonite carried an ad that presented a respectful understanding of the leadership’s opposition.

I haven’t followed the controversy  so I don’t know precisely why people object to the name change. I do, however, know enough about the Menno community and questions that come up from time to time that I’m pretty sure the people objecting to the name change were not doing so, as the ad suggests, in order to sustain barriers to growth and drive the institution into financial ruin.

I’m betting they don’t see themselves as the enemy of the credit union.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three likely reasons that Mennonite members of the MCSU might sensibly object to the name change:

  1. A longing to speak plainly: This comes up every time a congregation drops the word Mennonite from its title in the belief that it stands as a barrier to evangelism. Do we own who we are or do we hide behind false names? Are we ashamed to state plainly that we’re Mennonite?
  2. A commitment to the original vision of the MSCU: The MSCU was originally about mutual aid. Now, they talk of “shining their light” which sounds a lot like evangelism and less like mutual aid.
  3. An abhorrence to the name Kindred: I personally kinda love the irony of dropping the faith-based name as too exclusionary and replacing it with one that means “family only.” But some of the credit union members might not.

This name change is actually comedy gold for me and I can’t wait. But this post isn’t about that.

It’s about respectful disagreement and the inappropriate use of advertising.

Credit unions are an appealing banking alternative because the members get to be the bosses. If I were thinking of joining a credit union, I would like to imagine that major decisions were truly collective ones forged out of honest discussion. I wouldn’t want to see a nasty ad on the back of the magazine that painted a portion of the membership as enemies of the future. Is that really how they deal with dispute in this utopian financial institution?

Of course, maybe people in the MSCU’s catchment area aren’t like me. Maybe the MSCU did its market research and discovered that their growth potential exists among people who want dissidents put in their place and aren’t into all that respectful dialogue nonsense. They’re the kind of people who like the idea of joining a collective in which the leadership “humbly asks for trust” and then portrays a subset of its membership as a fifth column, intent on destroying the institution to which they belong.

Maybe there are people like that in the greater KW area. And maybe they’re the future of the credit union.

If that’s case, then good on the MSCU leadership. With enough hard work like this, it’ll soon disparage its opposition into submission and then all it will have to worry about is ridicule from the likes of me. And, well, I’m not that scary.


 

I found a lovely cocktail for this occasion over at Kindred Cocktails but it was a little too rude and a little too complicated for this blog. So I’m going with the Banker’s Lunch instead. Though really, in this case, my advice is for the MSCU leadership to spend money on a good communications expert instead of liquid lunches. But the membership can enjoy the cocktail as it mourns the passing of its cooperative ideals.baker's lunch

The Banker’s Lunch

  • 1.5 oz vodka
  • .5 oz dry vermouth
  • .5 oz an orange liqueur (Triple Sec or Cointreau)
  • 1.5 oz freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • a twist of grapefruit peel for garnish

Stir the ingredients in a glass with ice and garnish with the twist of peel. This is a somewhat bitter drink but maybe that’s appropriate.

* Full Disclosure: a number of my kindred are members of the MSCU but I  do not know their voting intentions.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Bank On It.

  1. Thanks Drunken Mennonite for this post. Full disclosure, I’m a MSCU staff person but this response is my own and not approved by any department or leadership at the credit union.

    I won’t speak to the specific content/wording of the ad (it will probably creep in some where) but you raise some good contextual issues here that I hope to respond to.

    To begin with, a note on using a national magazine. MSCU serves over 20,000 people, most of them from some Mennonite/Anabaptist persuasion. And, while the Waterloo region certainly contains a lot of them, there are members across the province and the country (I believe at least a few in every province). Ex. we have a bunch of members in Toronto who we happily serve through online and telephone banking and you could be one too (that will be my last sales pitch)! From an advertising perspective, a national Mennonite magazine is not out of place in that context. There are other ads that are more local in their nature and so I think you are more opposed to the big back page splash than the ad being in there itself.

    In terms of a “faith values in banking” context, the reality is, if readers click on the gameo link you included to other Mennonite Credit Unions, they’ll find that MSCU is the last Mennonite credit union in Canada that continues to articulate Anabaptist faith values as the reason for being (this will continue whichever way the vote goes). All the others have merged with other secular credit unions or have dropped the faith part. Of course, Mennonites across the country do still participate in boards and as staff (and of course members) of these credit unions and may be interested in what we are doing.

    Additional research would show that other denominational faith-based credit unions have also largely disappeared. MSCU is now the largest faith-based financial institution in Canada and (in my opinion) it would be a shame to lose that perspective (I’m generally one to appreciate having broader faith perspectives than the un-differentiated black hole that is “secular society”).

    The name change is a deliberate strategy to not have that happen. We don’t want to lose that original vision you reference as a good reason for voting no. On the surface that may seem counter-intuitive but you can do the numbers (which we have) and see that unless Mennonite populations grow faster and our market penetration increases we simply won’t be competitive enough to exist as solely Mennonite. Mennonites are a competitive crowd when it comes to thriftiness and so if TD, RBC, etc. are offering a better rate values go out the window. That’s the competitive landscape we operate in. We simply need some other people who believe in what we are doing to join.

    We aren’t comprised of only Mennonites anyway (several thousand are not) and philosophically (theologically?), why would we want to do that? Does MCC only serve Mennonites? No. But MCC serves out of their faith understanding, which the credit union aspires to as well. It’s not a fair comparison of course because no one has to become a member of MCC and have them know your private financial situation. It’s a bit more complicated for the credit union to navigate.

    Speaking plainy, in terms of structure, the credit union isn’t a “Mennonite institution” as we commonly think of them. Any other Mennonite institution that I can think of (MCC, Mennonite Foundation, Mennonite World Conference, CMU, seniors homes etc.) usually has set representation from the specific denominations that founded them. Since the credit union is a cooperative, that simply isn’t democratically possible to structure it in that way. That said, generally the credit union board does reflect the membership (Mennonites and non-Mennonites) with the exception of conservative populations (Old Order Amish etc.) who have generally chosen not to participate in this aspect of membership. Currently, it’s comprised of people that go to church in Anabaptist (MCEC, MB, BIC etc.) and non-Mennonite churches (I think Dutch Reformed and Presbyterian).

    Certainly, cooperative governance is a challenge to represent all voices. Many cooperatives become the kind of institutions that don’t actually engage in a democratic process or follow the cooperative principles. Can MSCU be better at this? Of course, there is always room for improvement.

    Which is why the discussion on name has been addressed over the past year through town hall meetings, AGM, focus groups etc. The link on the ad goes to all the communication that has been done and the process that has been undertaken. Now, it’s simply the voting period and it’s important to get as many members to vote as possible.

    It’s too easy to say “the board and management are trying to push X through” without actually engaging the issues at hand.

    Communication choices are made and they certainly aren’t intended to be disrespectful or denigrating to those who object. Some may take it that way and our staff and board will certainly listen to that perspective. Many members with dissenting opinions have participated throughout the process and they are always treated with respect. Conversations with members on both sides of the vote are held with members every day in our branches. At the very least it does spark a “I want the credit union to…” sentiment that is often un-voiced in the day-to-day shuffle of everyone’s life. Most members probably don’t think about that very often.

    To your point on Kindred being a more close-knit name, if we believe that “everyone is a child a God” and we are “brothers and sisters in Christ”, your previous posts on schisms aside, the name Kindred is actually fairly apt, acknowledging a bigger family (even though us “Mennonite game” players can be pretty exclusive) of believers – or at the very least commonly-minded.

    I don’t think it’s a perfect name – there isn’t one – but there are some upsides to it.

    MSCU has had to adapt to the changes in Mennonite and broader culture for over 50 years while holding on to and reinterpreting the original vision. This is just one more step and regardless of name change the credit union will have to continue to change to adapt to the current and future context.

    Change is difficult and never done as perfectly as the backward looking sentimentality of the “good old days” claims. We’ll see how this one fares when looking back 20 years from now.

    Well this got to a much longer response than I intended. Sorry about that. Thanks again for your perspective and feel free to shoot questions or responses back to this.

    Ben

    1. Thanks, Ben, for the lengthy and thoughtful reply. I actually don’t have strong feelings about the name per se and were I a member of the credit union, I would, of course, have educated myself over the course of the last year. I may well have come out in favour of the change. But that’s not the point. My issue really is with the ad. Even if you had lengthy, respectful dialogue with members throughout the year, the ad just publicly undoes that. Also, it is probably true that any name you chose would open MSCU up to more ridicule from me — it’s what I do 🙂

      1. Makes sense and an outside perspective is certainly good to have, ridicule and all! It’s a good thing to hear in testing how we are perceived. We all see things in different ways and perception can sometimes be a slippery slope… Thanks again.

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