1st Financial Federal Credit Union prides itself on helping members achieve their financial dreams.
It received the Community Credit Union of the Year Award for credit unions with less than $250 million in assets during the CUNA Community Credit Union Conference.
Carol Minges, CEO of the $215 million asset credit union in Wentzville, Mo., recently discussed the impact the credit union has on the community with Credit Union Magazine.
CU Mag: What does it mean to be a community CU?
Minges: Simply put, a community credit union is a financial institution that isn’t looking to break into a market, but rather exists in a market for the benefit and betterment of the people who live in it.
We’ve worked hard to not simply position ourselves as a checking account for the masses, but rather as a bastion of hope for the people in the community who are intimidated and frightened by their own credit score.
CU Mag: How does 1st Financial Federal determine its focus?
Minges: Several years ago we decided to focus our community development into three strategic areas: job training, education, and sustainable housing.
We spent a lot of time talking to our members and meeting with nonprofits in our communities to discuss the most prevalent needs. Time and time again, we found people in our community needed access to stable jobs, a solid education for themselves and their children, and safe, sustainable housing.
We stopped writing checks to every nonprofit that wrote us a letter and began working in partnership with nonprofits and government leaders in our communities to address those major issues.
CU Mag: How do you help people achieve their financial dreams?
Minges: We offered ourselves as a resource to the STL Youth Jobs initiative and the St. Louis Agency for Training and Employment (SLATE).
We asked questions about what their clients were facing and built a financial literacy curriculum and a free account to help supplement their important programs.
Now we’re opening approximately 700 accounts for at-risk people in the community who are entering the job force.
Prison to Prosperity is another program SLATE facilitates. It serves young people as they are leaving the prison system with financial literacy, job readiness training, access to savings and checking accounts, and other resources to prepare them for their next step.
Other programs include Youth Build, which provides job opportunities for at-risk youth to learn industrial trades while they earn a regular paycheck.
Funding for these programs is in part provided by the Citi Foundation. In 2015, they provided grant funds so we could bring on a full-time youth financial empowerment specialist.
This person is dedicated to ensuring all of our programs through STL Youth Jobs are consistent and valuable for the people we serve.
CU Mag: What would you call your greatest success when it comes to serving your community?
Minges: The success we see comes from the results of our efforts. Every summer, we watch our youth in the jobs programs save tens of thousands of dollars using automatic savings allocations.
We see the families of our college savings account, College Kids, gain access to over $100,000 in deposits and incentives to be used for their future college education every year.
Our lending has utilized tools that allow us to offer more opportunities to lower credit tiers, and we’ve seen people who have never been able to afford an auto loan payment walk out with valuable and reliable transportation for the first time in their lives.
Beyond that, we get to offer our employees paid time each month to volunteer with nonprofits in our communities that are focused on the same initiatives we are passionate about.
But most importantly, we’ve built a culture of people who see integrity in what they do and through that, we’ve built trust with our communities.
CU Mag: What are the benefits of greater community engagement?
Minges: Since engaging with our communities this way, we’ve seen the credit union lower the average member age (one branch has lowered that average by more than 10 years since 2012), increase membership growth by more than 7% year over year, exceed loan goals for yield and balances, and provide a strong and memorable brand in the community.
Programs that serve unbanked, underserved, and at-risk populations don’t come without their losses.
However, we are watching the fruits of our focused labor become profitable for the cooperative and the community.
When considering how we might separate ourselves from every other financial institution on the block, I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.