WASHINGTON -- Credit union leaders and executives celebrated some of their industry's efforts to help students and immigrants better their financial lives at the National Credit Union Foundation's 2010 Wegner Awards dinner. The foundation makes the awards each year in conjunction with CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference.
This year's awards recognized key industry leaders Dick Heins, retired CEO of CUNA Mutual Group, and Dick Ensweiler, president of the Texas Credit Union League, but much of the evening's energy came from the recognition given to Biz Kid$ as the year's outstanding program and the $1.8 billion HarborOne Credit Union's Multicultural Banking Center.
Biz Kid$ is an award winning television series, underwritten by credits unions nationwide, that offers lessons to students on personal finance and practical economics that parents can use at home and teachers can use in classrooms. HarborOne's MultiCultural Banking Center in an effort the credit union launched in 2007 to, at first, help local immigrants keep their homes in the face of the ongoing mortgage and foreclosure crisis that later became an overall financial education and training effort as well.
John Annaloro, president of the Washington State Credit Union League led a team of representatives from credit unions and the show itself to accept the recognition. He kicked off the awards with some pungent remarks about how important good financial education has become. The WCUL and Washington State Credit Union Foundation had taken a lead role in co-coordinating the national fund raising effort to support the program.
Can there be any question that if we had more of this sorts of financial education in place, fewer consumers would have been taken in by the bad loans and financial dealings that led us to today's crisis, Annaloro asked, referring at one point to the sorts of lending that banks had been doing as "swill."
John Blake, CEO of HarborOne, gave a moving and funny account of how his credit union moved cautiously at first into what was a very new and unexplored venture in the MultiCultural Banking Center.
"When we started this program, we had no idea where it was going," Blake said, recalling that after only about six months into the having started the center, he faced a series of interested questions about it from other CEOs attending a meeting of the Federal Reserve in Boston. "What I said to those people at that time was see us in two years after we have figured out what we are doing, because at this point we were afraid we were going to walk into a door and hurt ourselves with this program."
Blake recalled when the credit union started the program, Brockton was the leading city in the commonwealth for foreclosures and that only 5% of people who tried to use foreclosure mitigation to keep their homes actually succeeded. Now, after the center having been built and staffed from the credit union and a number of local nonprofit partners, that number has climbed to 66%. Blake described the experience of building, launching and managing the center to have been a "transforming" one for the credit union. "It energized the entire staff," he said. "It brought us back to our roots in 1917 when the credit union was founded to help the poor in the great city of Brockton."