a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

After reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly to better understand vulnerability for a project I recently helped launch, I learned a lot about the ways men and women process shame.  Even though it manifests in different ways, at the heart of everyone’s shame cycle is the need for connectedness with others and the following quote really struck me:

“If we are going to find our way out of shame and back to each other, vulnerability is the path and courage is the light.  To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave.  To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring Greatly.”  

We need to be thinking about the shame our members and our communities are walking around with every day, and realizing that it is part of the reason why more members aren’t banking with us already.  Money is one of the most flammable and controversial topics there is.  That makes our jobs supremely sensitive.  It isn’t about balancing a teller drawer, it is about filling the need for connectedness and inclusion that our members and our communities desire above all else.  

Many credit experts estimate that 30% of the American population has a credit score below 600.  The most common implications are lessened access to credit and important services.  It could also mean they can’t get an apartment, a cellphone, and even a job.  There is a huge mental component in play here that we need to be having a better discussion about as an industry.  And that is the shame aspect of peoples’ financial lives.

With finances, it doesn’t have to be foolish behavior, but a stroke of bad luck, a job loss, divorce, or even a large medical bill that can be all it takes to cause a financial domino effect.  But shame doesn’t know boundaries.  It affects many if not all areas of peoples’ lives if they are experiencing financial hardships.  What’s worse is that “financial shame” is easily measured unlike other areas of shame we might feel like being a “bad mom” or “bad husband.”  But you know automatically if your checking account is overdrawn or when you are denied for a loan because your credit score is too low.

In an ideal world, all borrowers would be A+, make “decent” money, have checking accounts with direct deposit, and be homeowners.  But not everyone fits into that box.  Many of our members and potential members are having a hard time making ends meet, feeding their families, and getting ahead.  This is likely the cause of shame for many people.    

The credit union industry is trying so hard to break out of its “member service is our differentiator” mold, and stories are happening every day in credit unions across the country who are connecting with members and making a big impact in their communities by creating programs centered around those people.  

What does “daring greatly” mean for many credit unions?  Setting down this “ideal world” list, loving the members you have, and serving the community(ies) you’re in. If your credit union successfully connects with those members who are feeling shame, you can be part of the solution that gets their life turned around, creating the most loyal brand evangelists for your organization.  If we can all get good at doing that, no one can stop this industry.  

Amanda Thomas

Amanda Thomas

Amanda is founder and president of TwoScore, a firm that channels her passion for the credit union mission and people to help credit unions under $100 million in assets reach ... Web: Details

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