CU Mag: What is your advice for newly chartered community credit unions?
MacNeil: Get to know your community values quickly. Motivate your officers and employees to volunteer on behalf of the credit union. Strive to get the active business leaders in the community aware of your services and appeal for their support.
Bell: Involve your community from the outset. Staff, management, and the board of directors should reflect the community you’re serving so that you understand the needs of your community, and earn members’ trust.
Serving the Unbanked and Unemployed
“Our members live in areas that are considered the most unbanked and underbanked in the U.S.,” says Treina Lind, assistant vice president, business and community relations, St. Louis Community Credit Union, and a Merit Award winner in CUNA’s 2010 Community Credit Union competition in the under $250 million in assets category.
“But I think the economic downturn opened the door for a larger segment of the community to see what was ‘the norm’ for St. Louis Community,” she adds. “We’ve remained dedicated to serving them all.”
It’s a priority, but not always easy. The $192 million asset St. Louis Community must manage the risks of making loans to members who haven’t always had the opportunity to borrow. The credit union serves a very “hands on” group of members, so it becomes a balancing act to provide enough staff and locations, while holding down operating expenses.
But success comes because staff stays focused. “Our senior team created this vision and reinforces the importance of our work in the community by setting goals that align with our mission to help our members,” Lind says.
In Medford, Ore., being viewed by the community as the local and trusted financial institution during these difficult times has contributed to 7% membership growth—more than three times the national average, notes Jeanne Pickens, director of marketing for $484 million asset Rogue Federal Credit Union, a Merit Award winner in the more than $250 million in assets category. The credit union serves a three-county area.
Challenges remain, however. Southern Oregon experiences some of the highest unemployment in the state—about 13.5%. Many businesses are struggling, and foreclosures are rising. In response, Rogue Federal developed Rogue Solutions—a program that analyzes members’ debt and helps them restructure payments. Another initiative is Building Hope—a foreclosure prevention program working in conjunction with a local housing association and media outlet.
Lind and Pickens agree understanding your community is critical. Hirefront-line staff that are part of the community, Lind says. “Then create an advisory committee to make suggestions to and review decisions from the board and management.”
“Get out in your community and find out what it is people want and need during these economic times,” Pickens emphasizes. “Find a way to connect with the community and find ways to meet their unrecognized needs. People in difficult financial situations sometimes don’t realize there could be a solution. What better way to show the credit union philosophy of people helping people then getting out there and making a difference in our communities.”