On June 26, 1934, Congress passed the Federal
Credit Union Act, allowing for the creation of what is now known as CUNA
(Credit Union National Association). While there were many factors that led to
this Act, one of its most influential advocates was Boston businessman Edward
Albert Filene (1860 – 1937).

The name Filene is most familiar to people in
connection with the retail chain established by his father William (who changed
his name from Wilhem Katz). Edward Filene, along with his younger brother Lincoln,
took over the running of the business in the early 1890s and were responsible
for numerous retail innovations – most notably their Automatic Bargain Basement
store at
which clothes purchased as seconds (overstock, warehouse clearance, etc) were
priced down every six days. They also ran their business with a wide range of
uncommon-at-the-time employee benefits.

In 1907, not long after the Filenes chain was acquired by Federated
Department Store, Filene decided to become a world traveler. While visiting
India, he became intrigued with
the Agricultural Cooperative Banks that were becoming popular in
the country’s small villages. With government support, these cooperatives offered
small business
loans that would normally be denied by larger banks. He came home and began
the principles involved and discovered that his interest was widely
shared, particularly among a large group of fellow descendants of German Jews
(who are said to have wanted to banish the concept of the Jew as userer). The support
in his home state was so strong
that the Massachussetts Credit Union Association opened in 1914.

Filene traveled from state to state speaking about credit
unions. When CUNA was established in 1935, Filene, through the Twentieth
Century Fund foundation, appropriated $25,000 to support it. Throughout his
career, Filene had found ways to make the lives of those less fortunate just a
little better (affordable quality clothes, employee benefits), and he strongly
believed that credit
unions would offer a chance at success to a whole new segment of
American society.

Copyright © 2017 NJOP. All rights reserved.