PORTLAND, Ore. -- Can money make you sick? Mike Fletcher of Point West Credit Union here makes a direct connection between health and financial well-being. He's delivered a presentation titled "Can Money Make You Sick?" which covers the basics of financial education and its effect on stress many times, including at a Health and Wellness Fair at Portland Community College last year. Back then, Fletcher, VP of Marketing & Business Development, said he hoped the program might be expanded.
That hope is now a reality, along with a growing emphasis on Point West's outreach to the Hispanic Community. Within three years it has opened a new branch and expanded staff from 35 to 50 and offered new products, all directed at growing this $106 million, near 13,000-member CU as it celebrates its 75th year. To kick things off, it's running a 7% CD offer that's already brought in $1.5 million in new money. The 5-month CD is available to members who have checking accounts and direct deposit and 74 members opened promotional CDs on the first day of the promotion.
PWCU was seeking a way to expand its financial education efforts and will deliver the "Banking on our Future" program, which is geared to youth ages 9-18 free to school districts. PWCU has worked with students in Portland public schools for some time, teaching the basics of banking, checking and savings accounts, credit, and investing.
"Our CEO Robert Barzler and our board, which is very young and diverse, is very passionate about being a 'real' credit union," said Fletcher. "You hear it all the time, but they give us a clear definition of what it means." What it doesn't mean is hoarding 10% or more in capital, added Fletcher. "How we use our reserves is part of living that philosophy every day. Our budget is designed with our capital ratio in mind." PWCU's capital ratio is now at 8%.
Amy Nelson is the newest addition hired to do training and the fifth PWCU staffer to earn certification in the Banking On Our Future (BOOF) program. The training and education manager said, "I was teaching in a high school classroom three weeks after I started at Point West," said Nelson. Alison Carr, vice president of corporate development noted that Nelson "will equip each staff member with the tools necessary to provide the high level of service we promise members as we continue to grow."
Since merging with the former Hacienda Community Credit Union and its 2,800 Latino members in March 2005 PWCU has developed alternatives to check cashing and payday lending. Its Fresh Start Checking and free financial counseling resource called BALANCE allows CU members to open a checking account without previously established credit, Social Security Number or Individual Tax I.D. Number.
The checking account provides ATM access, online banking access, checks, and access to direct deposit. For a $10 monthly fee a member can avoid high check cashing fees and charges for money orders. If in good standing for a year, it automatically converts to a regular free checking account with additional privileges. A free online course (in Spanish) is required, which can be completed in the CU lobby.
The BALANCE resource comes from a division of CCCS of San Francisco that provides counseling over the phone or online with certified financial counselors. It's available in both Spanish and English. Barzler said he placed a premium on having multiple bilingual staff throughout the credit union to serve members in nearly every department of each branch and a fully translated Spanish version of its Web site (www.pointwestcu.com). "Serving the Hispanic community is an important part of our mission," he said.
Business Development Officer Ximena Quiroz came from Hacienda and translated many of the CU's in-house forms into Spanish. She commits a significant portion of her time to educating the Latino community by seeking out companies with large Hispanic workforces and making them aware of the benefits of CU membership. Quiroz works through several community groups, including the Portland Housing Center and the local library. "I try to get the word out that Hispanics here can buy their own homes.
PWCU was a sponsor of Latino Home Initiative, a fair that gives help to Latino families in the home buying process. Quiroz served on the planning committee and taught three of the seminars at last year's event. PWCU also sponsored one of the $5,000 down payment grants for a participant, one of 30 candidates selected from those Lations who attend and enter a raffle.
They can win a down payment grant ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 when they purchase a new home. Francisco Bautista Parra, a Point West Credit Union member, was selected and is now trying to complete the homeownership course and find a home.
Given the rising political heat over recently proposed legislation on immigration, Quiroz commented, "It shouldn't be political. Credit unions are here to help people and keep them from usurious payday lenders."
Multnomah County Chairman Ted Wheeler attended the opening of PWCU's new branch on May 10. It was fitting because PWCU was chartered in 1932 by seven Multnomah County employees and they are its original base.