Nix is the largest independent check cashing chain in Los Angeles, with 55 retail locations. Within the next six months, all Nix locations will be converted to full-service Kinecta Federal Credit Union branches. First on the list of product adjustments are plans to convert Nix's payday loan product into a credit union loan, extending repayment terms and reviewing rates and fees.
Kinecta President/CEO Simone Lagomarsino said Nix differs from its competition in its philosophy, which is more in-line with credit union values than those of stereotypical payday lenders. Rates and fees charged to payday lending customers are much lower than those charged by the competition, she said.
This move follows fellow California CU Wescom Credit Union's purchase of a payday lender a few months ago.
Lagomarsino said she has known President/CEO Thomas Nix Jr. for years, as both CEOs are actively involved in a common charity. The credit union leader said she wasn't aware Nix was looking for a banking partnership until one of Kinecta's attorneys mentioned it. The deal moved quickly, with the two CEOs first meeting to discuss the merger only a few months ago.
"Tom has taken a very strong position to help regulate the check cashing industry," Lagomarsino said. "I've always thought he was a man of integrity and high ethics, and that was important to me as we went down this road."
In fact, Nix has a reputation in Los Angeles as a champion of the underserved, and has been recognized by publications and civic leaders for his work. Los Angeles community leaders, including former police chief and current Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks, and Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, praised the Kinecta-Nix merger as an opportunity for the underserved to become mainstream banking customers.
"Becoming a division of a bank or credit union is the first step in order to accomplish my ultimate goal of bringing banking back to underserved communities," Nix told Credit Union Times, adding, "You can't outsource these things."
Nix said he's seen many of his clients improve their financial standing and move into the ranks of mainstream banking customers. However, because many banks have pulled out of poor Los Angeles neighborhoods, mainstream banking is often not convenient for those who live there.
"Our customers will be able to open a credit union savings account and have a safe place to store their money," Nix said. "They can continue to cash their checks and pay bills with the free money orders we provide, but when they're ready to open a traditional checking account, it will be convenient for them."
Nix said his 400 employees are very excited about joining Kinecta's 700 employees, and said he feels because his company values are so similar to the credit union philosophy, the transition shouldn't be too difficult for employees.
"In all of his stores, he hires from within the community he's serving, which is something we value and will continue to do," Lagomarsino said. "They also record and track service scores, and have a mystery shopper program, and their service scores are very similar to ours. We'll take the time to make sure their staff is trained appropriately, but we don't foresee that will be difficult."
Upon NCUA field of membership expansion approval, Kinecta plans to market credit union membership to Nix customers. The credit union is requesting underserved area expansion in communities served by a Nix location.
The acquisition fits nicely into two credit union directives: to increase business in underserved areas, and to expand the credit union's branching network. Once all 55 Nix locations are converted to Kinecta branches, the credit union will more than triple its number of branch sites.
"The beauty of this deal is, with our size and their size, we can make such a difference in these communities," Lagomarsino said. "Changing their payday lending product will not only have a significant affect on Nix's customers, but the entire community, because the competition will need to respond, too."
Nix will join the Kinecta staff as a senior vice president, and top Nix leaders Darline Gavin and Randall Dotemoto will also take positions on the credit union's management team.
Nix said he is looking forward to his new role in the credit union industry.
"I've been a credit union member for years, but to be honest, I didn't really understand the tremendous value that credit unions could offer my marketplace until meeting with Simone and her people," Nix said. "It has been very refreshing to learn how customer-driven the credit union industry is. It was more along the lines of what we were looking for, and it meets the needs of our customers."