Lessons from Successful Models

  1.  Strong alignment with credit union objectives & mission: A clear set of motivations and objectives is critical. In the credit union context, there can be an assumption that retail impact investing is a fit with mission; this is not always true nor obvious, as there are many potential options around the nature of product selection and development. It is important to be clear how this alignment exists. As described earlier, each of the profiled organizations within the case studies had clear, but somewhat different, motivations and objectives.
  2.  Solid rationale and business case: As with any other product, credit unions must make a strong case for retail impact investment products amongst competing opportunities and demands for the credit union. It is also important to consider the opportunity costs (i.e. the costs of not doing this), especially where broad member and societal trends would seem to favour these opportunities, and that it provides credit unions with a novel way to differentiate themselves and attract new members. Calvert Foundation’s journey in this area provides an illustrative example of why this is essential.
  3. Visible and engaged leadership from an internal champion: Like many other organizational strategies, developing retail impact investment products requires a strong internal commitment that can bring together the relevant teams and individuals in a coordinated manner. It is powerful when this leadership is from the highest levels, and maintains high visibility. Many credit unions we spoke with have clearly expressed interest in retail impact investing, but recognize that the competing interests internally may favour other initiatives. As such, having an internal champion to galvanize action, as the case of MSCU demonstrates, is vital.
  4. Strong internal coordination to maximize buy-in: As retail impact investing is still a novel idea for many credit unions, it will require the buy-in of several departments, and it will require that staff go beyond what is required for a typical product. The challenge is bringing these groups together to work collaboratively, even if it is not clear at the outset what the final product may look like. It is even more important to do this well if the group expects to face barriers that the organization has not experienced in the past. This was illustrated by the experience of various team members in Vancity’s Resilient Capital Program.
  5. Partnerships with existing funds or organizations: It is often the case that partnerships will be critical to identify the impact opportunity. A high level of trust is required among the external partners and the credit unions, and common objectives and shared success measures. Building trust involves multiple conversations– in order to discuss options to move forward, identify individual and mutual concerns, and solidify a commitment to overcome them together. The partnership between the Jubilee Fund and Assiniboine Credit Union is an illustrative case, where a stated commitment to collaborate was key.