The credit union idea is a simple one: People should be able to pool their money and make loans to each other. It's an idea that evolved from cooperative activities in 19th century Europe. Since that time, the idea's guiding principles have remained the same:
Only people who are credit union members should borrow there;
Loans are made for "prudent and productive" purposes;
A person's desire to repay (character) is considered more important than the ability (income) to repay. Members are, afterall, borrowing their own money and that of their friends.
These principles still govern most of the world's credit unions. As the 20th century began, the credit union idea surfaced in Canada. Canada's successful efforts profoundly influenced two Americans: Pierre Jay, the Massachusetts banking commissioner, and Edward A. Filene, a Boston merchant.