Just because some founders of the Occupy Wall Street group have decided to launch a financial cooperative that is not a credit union, doesn’t mean they are against the idea.
Carne Ross, a former British diplomat and writer who claims to have launched the Occupy Wall Street group in 2011 told Credit Union Times the group might sponsor a credit union later, when it becomes more established. Founding a credit union right away was an effort the group thought too time consuming and expensive, he said.
And, the group’s website said the cooperative would not be a credit union because it did not want a limited field of membership.
“Certainly, nothing we are doing or saying should be taken as being against credit unions at all,” Ross said. “We love credit unions and urge people to join one if they can.”
He added that he is a member of the 5800-member, $36 million Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union of New York.
The new organization is called the Occupy Money Cooperative; Ross and five other Occupy founders will serve as the group’s volunteer board. The six members have varying degrees of financial and banking experience, he said.
Ross said “all the pieces were in place” for the cooperative’s launch as a New York State corporation, and added the group was currently raising several months’ worth of operating expenses so that it could hire staff to get it up and running. He estimated that would require several hundred thousand dollars.
He also said the group had struck upon offering a prepaid, fee-generating Visa card as the cooperative’s first financial product because its relative ease of issuing and accessibility, which made it a good product for the millions of people who can’t open credit union accounts.
“While we urge everyone to join a credit union, right now there are ten million households in this country that can’t do that,” Ross said. “The card provides them an easy and affordable way to start getting some financial services.”
The group’s website said the card would assess a $0.99 per month fee and that its interchange stream would help keep organization’s other costs low. However, it did not say whether or how it would be regulated, or how any deposited funds might be insured.
Meanwhile, another effort aimed a launching a credit union arising out of the Occupy protests has slowed significantly.
“You really need to have a pool of money put together for anyone else with any money to take you seriously,” said Brian McKeown, a San Francisco-based Occupy activist and organizer of the People’s Reserve Credit Union. “Our effort has really stalled as we gather the capital.”
McKeown began the effort in November 2011. His group, which includes several organizers in the California music scene, had attempted to put together one or more musical events to raise awareness about the credit union and raise funds, but there had been problems securing a venue.
In the meantime, he said the group had gathered more than the number of participants required by the California Department of Financial Institutions to show support for a credit union.
“The challenge right now is really coming up with initial money,” he said.