Lower Valley Credit Union received an honorable mention for 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. Josh Beck, executive vice president/chief financial officer of the $100 million asset credit union in Sunnyside, Wash., recently discussed how the credit union has served the underserved in the community with Credit Union Magazine.
CU Mag: What value do community credit unions offer?
Beck: Being a community credit union is best exemplified through providing financial opportunities for community members who otherwise wouldn’t have access. Community credit unions provide more than just hope within the communities they serve—they change their community members’ lives daily.
These credit unions facilitate the process of reallocating funding from those community members who already have funds to save and deposit, to those members who otherwise would have nowhere else to go for the life-altering possibilities that come with establishing or reestablishing credit.
Being a community credit union ultimately means providing everyone who can prove over time that are financially responsible the possibility of obtaining a car, a house, an education, or many of their other dreams.
CU Mag: Lower Valley makes it a priority to focus on serving low income and Hispanic members in the community. How did this become a focus?
Beck: Serving these underserved populations became Lower Valley’s priority due to one simple reason, need. Since our inception in 1952, Lower Valley has always made it a priority to serve all of the members within our rural communities regardless of the demographic background of those community members. Over the 70 plus years since that time, the communities and the community members have changed in a significant manner.
Nearly 30 years ago we hired our first Spanish speaking employee, and the credit union saw a sharp rise in the demand for Lower Valley’s services due to this simple business decision.
The underserved in our area, as well as across the nation, have very limited financial options in most cases and we simply attempt to bring as many of them as possible an affordable, safe route to financial opportunities they may otherwise never have.
CU Mag: What’s the biggest obstacle in developing programs that aid underserved populations?
Beck: Initially there are many obstacles in developing programs to serve the underserved. There are straightforward obstacles, such as pricing for credit risk through possible default, gaining support from the board of directors for perceived high-risk programs, gaining support from regulators through analytics and historical performance, and initial costs related to the development of policies, procedures, and staffing. But the biggest obstacle is reaching the underserved community members, who in most cases distrust the financial services industry due to their marginalized past experiences. Every successful program will fail if no one believes in it or sees the value in using it.
CU Mag: Which initiatives have made the biggest difference among the communities you serve?
Beck: Our greatest success has been serving the areas of our community that others have failed to recognize. Whether it’s serving members without Social Security numbers who’ve avoided the endless cycle of high-priced payday or title lending through our unique individual tax identification number lending program, or those who’ve obtained their Social Security numbers through our citizenship partnership program, Lower Valley took a chance on someone who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.
CU Mag: How has the community involvement benefited the credit union?
Beck: No matter what data one looks at when viewing the credit union, our community involvement has driven an outstanding success story. Loan, membership, and asset growth ratios are all at the top of not only similar asset size credit unions, but of any in the nation regardless of size.
Our community involvement has also led to numerous community organizational relationships and partnerships, which have further increased the credit union’s impact. Finally, it has led to the majority of our staff members coming directly from our membership, their families, or friends, which generates trust and allows us to bond with our members.