Community Banking: Doing Well By Doing Good
Big ideas make the world go round. The very nature of our market economy requires a constant flux of innovation as competitors vie to outdo each other with bigger ideas, flashier products and more comprehensive services. Every industry is led by the company that revolutionizes it first. Starbucks converted coffee consumers into connoisseurs. Apple, perhaps the most creative company in America, changed the way we listened to and purchase music with the iPod. Now, in our own neck of the woods, a financial services company is breaking the mold with fresh innovations that actually improve our community.
Take it from someone who hasn’t set foot in a bank since the advent of online banking: I’m no fan. The way I see it, banks are all the same. I prefer the convenience of my laptop to the indifferent customer service of a bank. I’d rather use an ATM than translate a teller’s words over the drive-thru mic. In the past, I have always selected my banks based on their interest rates for investments and loans. Until now, that was the only search criterion that made any sense.
When Community Oaks set up shop here, they made a conscious decision to make a positive difference in the community. This may not seem like an industry-transforming proposition. However, when you consider that most banks only pay lip service to the issue and call it being a good corporate citizen, Community Oaks represents a “follow my lead” business model destined to revolutionize their industry. Since it is a credit union, Community Oaks is only accountable to its customers - not a corporate master. Therefore, they’re able to offer higher-than- average rates on accounts and investments as well as low interest loan products that can’t be matched elsewhere.
Community Oaks walks the walk when it comes to community commitment. Essentially, their philosophy seems to be making money for their customers while making their community a better place to live. Take their “Community Visa.” Please. 5% of the profits from the card are donated to community projects. Among Community Oak’s mortgage products, a “green” home improvement loan option gives the customer a discounted interest rate if they make energy-efficient renovations or use construction materials made from renewable resources.
Here’s another big idea: Community Oaks purchased fifty bikes and made them available to everyone in town. The principle was simple: if you see the bike leaning up against a tree, feel free to ride it home or to the store. Leave the bike outside. When someone else comes along and needs a ride, the bike is there to share. Riders not only save three-plus bucks per gallon of gas they don’t use and get a good cardio workout, but also do their part to ensure cleaner air for our area. Or consider the case of Bill Jones. He runs a $5 million furniture refurbishing business, which he started with a business loan from Community Oaks. Taking materials destined for landfills, Jones produces upscale furniture from recycled materials and offers his inventory to members of the credit union at a 20% discount.
Comparatively mundane, but equally important in the Community Oaks plan were more basic student education and out-reach ventures, tree planting programs and neighborhood beautification projects. The more money Community Oaks loans for businesses and initiatives such as these, the more they’re able to reinvest in projects that improve our community. Talk about giving people an incentive to do the right thing.
Nothing, financially and altruistically speaking, makes more sense for our community now than Community Oaks. Last year, the credit union invested $3.9 million back into the community while their members enjoyed double digit returns. If we can truly succeed financially by making our community a better place to live, moving your money from a bank to Community Oaks is the smartest - and most altruistic thing we can do with our money - short of donating it outright.