CUs Tap Into Their Communities

‘Your story is your greatest strength.’

October 31, 2011

From road trips to multicultural centers, community credit unions show they’re more relevant today than ever before.

Speakers at CUNA’s Community Credit Union & Growth Conference in San Francisco share how they tap into the communities they serve.

Road trip leads to inspiration

Mark DeBellis took a credit union road trip that lasted 151 days and 16,000 miles. He made 200 contacts with credit unions and leagues, and visited 13 campgrounds, 15 recreational vehicle parks, and 25 Wal-Mart parking lots.

Mark DeBellis
Mark DeBellis

At the end, "I was tired, but inspired," says DeBellis, president of PSB Integrated Marketing, who shared these road-trip insights at CUNA’s Community Credit Union & Growth Conference:

  • Credit unions are more relevant today than at any other time;
  • Being the “little guy” in the fight builds character, tenacity, and creativity;
  • Consistency and authenticity are credit union hallmarks;
  • Don’t confuse size with significance—your opportunities to do great things for members doesn’t depend on the size of your credit union; and
  • Your story is your greatest strength.

‘The future isn’t what it used to be’

The future isn’t what it used to be, says CUNA Senior Economist Steve Rick. So prepare for the new normal: an operating environment marked by continued low interest rates, subdued economic growth, a new era of thrift, high unemployment, and smaller securitization markets.

A bright spot in the economy: strong spending by businesses on equipment and software, signs that companies are investing in efficiencies. But productivity is beginning to slow, he says. To meet increased demand, businesses must increase hiring.

Center educates modest-means members

Mark DeBellis
Jim Blake

A fundamental cause of the financial crisis was consumers' lack of financial education, says Jim Blake, CEO of HarborOne Credit Union, Brockton, Mass. To meet the educational needs of many area low- to middle-income residents, HarborOne opened a multicultural banking center.

Blake says these residents, largely minorities and immigrants, were being victimized by members of their own communities. The challenge for the center was to build trust, remove cultural barriers, and ensure the branch was profitable in one year.

The credit union partnered with area agencies and nonprofits to “triage” consumers when they walked in the door: Did they need housing services, savings advice, small-business development, or health care? Its core belief, he says, is that people will do business with entities they trust.

Blake's advice for credit unions: Think strategically about who in the community could have a stake in an effort like this. How can your credit union help them succeed?

Life-saving lessons

The Latino Community Credit Union, Durham, N.C., opened its doors about 10 years ago thanks to a grassroots movement to curb violence against Latinos, said Erika Bell, the credit union’s vice president for strategy and services.

Erika Bell
Erika Bell

“Community leaders came together to save lives and maintain safety,” she says.

Lessons the Latino Community learned:

  • Hire staff that represents your community;
  • Offer the right products;
  • Develop identification policies and procedures; and
  • Personalize your services.

The credit union offers a full package of products including auto loans to members without credit histories (up to $12,000) and mortgages without personal mortgage insurance or points for members with no credit history.

With low delinquencies and charge-offs, “we want to move low-income members into the middle class,” she says. “We want them to gain assets.”