At Lakota Federal Credit Union (LFCU), mobile banking has a much different meaning than what most people associate with their smart phones.
Instead of an app, LFCU brings banking services to members with a bus known as the “Rolling Rez.”
The $9 million asset credit union in Kyle, S.D., serves the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which has a population of roughly 40,000, more than 40% of whom are age 19 or younger. It’s home to the Oglala Lakota Sioux.
The reservation covers two counties and more than two million acres. It has nine districts, which are individual communities each roughly 30 minutes apart.
LFCU took a big step this year when it decided to purchase its own bus. Until now, LFCU shared the bus as part of a partnership with Art Space, First Peoples Fund, and Lakota Funds, some of the credit union’s key partners.
The new bus will greatly expand LFCU’s ability to serve members, says Shayna Ferguson, president/CEO.
“Right now we only go to Pine Ridge, which is the agency headquarters,” Ferguson says. “We only go twice a month. This bus will give us the ability to go to all nine districts and be out every day of the week, not just twice a month. It's huge.”
Meeting monumental challenges with steady, incremental steps is business as usual for LFCU, which serves one of the nation’s lowest-income areas.
The credit union opened in 2012 as a community development financial institution. Ferguson was LFCU’s first member service representative.
Today, the credit union has 3,300 members and eight full-time employees. Among the biggest advances the credit union has made under Ferguson’s leadership is the ability to offer mortgages, which presents compliance challenges because the homes are on reservation land.
“We’re paving the way with our mortgages right now,” she says.
‘We’ve been through so much historical trauma, but we continue to strive to make progress.’
Even as it adds services, LFCU’s primary focus is education—and not just financial education. Many residents of the reservation have a fear of the government and anything they believe is associated with it.
“When native people hear 'federal credit union,' they're like, ‘Oh no, what is that?’" Ferguson says. "It's our duty as credit union employees to go into the communities and say, ‘Hey, we're not what you think we are.’”
The next step is getting members into basic services. The credit union even helps members pay their utility bills.
These efforts can protect members from the predatory lenders that set up shop on the reservation, Ferguson says.
“There are still people getting payday loans and paying 35% interest,” she says. “If we can get our members to come in here and get a signature loan with us at a lower rate—they need to help with propane or whatever—that's huge. That's all about education.”
As a Native American, Ferguson says Native American Heritage Month is a source of pride for her and LFCU.
“There's pride because as a native there's been so much historical trauma that everybody has been stuck on for years,” she says. “But what the natives are doing now is huge. Credit unions are opening in different places. Like us, we're the newest chartered credit union in South Dakota and we're on a reservation. That's huge.”