Outside the US, it is safe to assume that few people would have any reason whatsoever to be aware of the existence of Atomic Credit Union, Piketon, Ohio. Credited, as it were, with a barnstorming name like Atomic, it also benefits alphabetically relative to, say, Wings Financial Credit Union in a sporting contest.
Implicitly, the basic idea of a credit union would seem to be in conflict with the founding principles, especially, of the United States of America, a society built on the image of rugged individualism and free-wheeling capitalism. To the uninitiated, the concept of credit unions was conceived and nurtured in mid-19th century Germany and has since spread to well over 100 countries.
Operationally similar to a traditional bank, a credit union is, however, a not-for-profit savings and lending cooperative that is owned by its registered members. In essence, a credit union exists to serve the needs of its members by offering financial products and services similar to those provided by for-profit, shareholder-owned banking institutions.
Specifically, eligibility for Atomic Credit Union Piketon membership is based largely on routing number and residency within a defined geographical location. For as little as US$5, a new member can open a savings account, which automatically confers membership. Membership, in turn, implies part-ownership of Atomic CU and the right to vote at Board meetings.
The Collapse of Communism
The fact that an institution like Atomic Credit Union exists at all in the US is a testament to the strength of the nation’s democratic foundation. The idea that groups of people could form a cooperative union for mutual financial benefits could be deemed as anachronistic in a market-driven landscape. The existence of charity organisations, with their tax-exempt status, may be tolerable, while trade unions had to fight for decades to gain full recognition. In this context, an entity like Atomic CU exemplifies a mild form of collectivism, which is reflective of socialist doctrine or Communist tenets, both of which are incongruous and near-anathema to the American spirit of free enterprise.
To many ideological purists on the political right, Communist dogma was the great enemy of the 20th century that was justifiably vanquished in 1989. Since then, the rump of the former Soviet Union, Russia, and the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China have embraced the free market economic model. The moribund economies of holdout states like Cuba and North Korea, including impoverished Venezuela, speak for themselves.
The Persistence of Credit Unions
In spite of obvious ideological misalignment, close to one third of the US population are members of credit unions, through affiliations such as labour organisations, religious bodies, schools, and home-owner associations. The largest of these boast as many as 8 million members, but most are of more moderate size. Established for the benefit of members, “profits” earned are typically returned to members in the form of higher deposit rates, lower interest rates on loans, and reduced service fees.
All in all, the greatest strengths of Atomic Credit Union, for instance, with its community focus also mirror its peculiar pitfalls. Being somewhat insular, membership guidelines could be parochial and, with relatively few branch locations, smaller range of products, and less-than-robust infrastructure, traditional banks sometimes have an advantage. Nevertheless, credit unions are here to stay.
At least in the West, there is no apparent consensus regarding the interpretation of the old Chinese proverb: “May you live in interesting times.” Ostensibly a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective, the global community is certainly living through interesting times.
Geopolitically, the rise of China as a world power has coincided with the spread of political populism in the West, as well as the election of an unconventional, right-wing US President who espouses an “America First” foreign policy.
How ironic, therefore, that one of the two leading politicians vying for the Democratic Party ticket, to challenge the incumbent in the 2020 general elections, is the avowed democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders. As it happened, Senator Sanders, an independent politician from the New England state of Vermont, ran former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton very close in 2016, and the 2020 primary contest is yet to be decided. Buoyed by the support of young voters, the truly interesting question is what the left-wing populist support for Senator Sanders portends in light of the stark political divide in the US.
It would be fair to wonder what the novel coronavirus pandemic, currently sweeping the globe, has in common with Atomic Credit Union. Once analysts began to recall the tragedy of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed as many as 50 million people, skittishness and naked fear began to spread across continents. In some quarters, it was also being suggested that this global crisis could be the most traumatic since the US effectively ended the Second World War by dropping atomic bombs on two Japanese cities.
To be sure, the world has experienced period economic convulsions, such as the Great Recession that occurred in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis. Comparatively, not only is this pandemic roiling stock markets and threatening economic stability, its wide footprint may result in a reversal of many of the gains of globalisation that we have come to take for granted. As the scale of the epidemic has evolved, the potential damage to production supply chains, travel, and global trade began to unfold. Whole nations are currently in lockdown, even as barriers to the outside world are going up. By laying bare the limitations in the healthcare systems of rich nations, dire projections by experts become more jarring by the day.
Right now, we have no idea how concepts like “social distancing” and forced teleworking will shape how we live, work and play in the future. As people everywhere begin to adapt to new social interaction rules, the inherent virtues of community-based institutions, such as Atomic Credit Union, come to the fore. Ultimately, when the chips are down, the most vulnerable among us deserve a helping hand. Support and cooperation at the community level make us our brothers’ keepers since divided we fall, united we stand. During a once-in-a-generation crisis such as this, another interesting irony is that people who are able to lean on each other economically and socially presumably improve their chances of surviving the tragedy compared to those with a go-it-alone mindset.
As a practical concept, credit unions serve as platforms for drawing people together for their mutual advantage. On balance, credit unions experience relatively lower rates of failure during financial crises, corporate credit unions tend to watch each other’s backs, while deposit insurance schemes ensure that individuals do not fall through the cracks in a worst-case scenario.
Best-in-State Credit Union 2019
Founded in 1955 and headquartered in the town of Piketon, Ohio, Atomic Credit Union currently has a membership roll of about 50,000, making it the 20th largest in the state of Ohio. With 12 branch locations, an employee headcount of 189, and assets in the region of $350 million, Atomic Employees Credit Union is the quintessential mid-range credit union located in Middle America.
According to Bankrate, a rating agency, Atomic Credit Union Piketon Ohio earned 4 out of 5 stars in 2017 for “safety and soundness.” Perhaps more significantly, Forbes magazine conferred on Atomic Credit Union the Best-in-State Credit Union award in 2019. No doubt, Atomic Credit Union is a class act.
Whither Goes Piketon Ohio?
Hard as one may try, it is difficult to avoid the subject of politics, especially during an election year in the United States. Despite the rising influence of China, it is virtually impossible to ignore the process that ushers into office the individual still dubbed “the most powerful man in the world.” As a beacon of Western democracy, it is surprising that the US is yet to elect a female president, and this election cycle shows no sign of reversing that trend.
As political pundits never fail to remind us, the state of Ohio is one of the most significant battlegrounds of American politics. Simply stated, no Republican has ever become president without winning Ohio’s electoral college votes. Prior to the 2016 election, both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, from the two opposing parties carried Ohio. So did President Donald Trump by a narrow margin in 2016.
So, in 2020, whither goes Piketon Ohio? The answer to that question may well resonate for many years to come. Regardless of the outcome, Atomic Credit Union seems on its way to marking its platinum jubilee in 2025, when hopefully the global economy would have stabilized and the impact of the coronavirus outbreak will be a distant memory.