Occupy movement activists in San Francisco first announced plans for People’s Reserve Credit Union, an in-the-works cooperative designed to serve local communities and take a stand against the city’s for-profit banks, in November 2011. The project is now well under way, with board and advisory committee meetings taking place and fundraising initiatives scheduled, said Brian McKeown, an Occupy leader who is spearheading the People’s Reserve CU project.
According to organizers, People’s Reserve CU has met the California Department of Financial Institutions’ requirements for a new credit union and will soon apply for certification. A California DFI spokesperson said the department has spoken with a People’s Reserve CU representative but has not yet received an application.
In the mean time, the group is focusing their efforts on raising capital, creating a People’s Reserve CU buzz in their communities and consulting with experts on strategies for the credit union’s launch. McKeown said they plan to open their first branch in San Francisco’s low-income Tenderloin neighborhood as early as in fall 2013.
“We are excited to have come this far,” he said. “I have had thousands of conversations with people wanting to help and the support has been overwhelming. Now we need to convert that into our fundraising efforts and get to work using local money to build opportunity and community where it is most needed.”
Fundraising projects for the future credit union include distributing a video that tells the People’s Reserve CU story, which might bring in some cash but is primarily intended to raise awareness, and a social media campaign, McKeown said. He added that several of the founders have backgrounds in music, either as club owners or musicians, and plan to hold fundraising events featuring live entertainment. The group has also partnered with organizations such as Ethix Merchant Services in Oakland, Calif., an independent sales organization that offers merchant account credit card processing services to businesses and nonprofits, and the Bellingham, Wash.-based Business Alliance for Local Living Economies .
Backers are working toward raising the traditionally needed $500,000 in capital to open a financial institution, McKeown said, and expects to acquire a bulk of that during upcoming fundraising events. They’ve also launched a website, www.peoplesreserve.org, which allows the public to make donations and complete a survey on their financial services needs.
“Raising money is a big challenge,” he said. “We didn’t want to go to corporations, so that narrows our field. We just started fundraising, so we’re not in the six figure range yet. I think when it starts coming in, it’s going to come in bigger waves.”
The credit union’s organizers have also released names of their board and advisory committee members. Serving on the board will be McKeown; Bianca Velishek, vice president for the California League of Women Voters; Abdus Salam, Rajshahi division chief executive for Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Sara Batterby, chief development officer for Ethix Merchant Services.
Advisory committee members include Geoff MacDonald, director of asset management for the Community Housing Partnership in San Francisco; Dan Leibsohn, CEO for Community Development Finance in Oakland; San Francisco entrepreneur and community action group advisor Brent Turner and San Francisco attorney Josh Irwin.
People’s Reserve CU intends to offer savings accounts, branch banking, online banking, free access to hundreds of participating ATMs, micro-enterprise loans, low-interest student loans, low-fee check cashing, payday loan services and small business loans, organizers said. McKeown said he hopes the credit union will eventually reach an asset size figure in the tens of billions.
“Our goal is to be a community development credit union,” he said.