WASHINGTON – Three credit union CEOs stressed that collaboration is key to successfully reaching out to low income communities during an afternoon break-out session at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference Tuesday afternoon.
Paul Phillips, president/CEO of the $315 million Freedom First Credit Union of Roanoke, Va., Kathy Geary, president/CEO of the $155 million HEW Federal Credit Union of Alexandria, Va. and Patsy Van Ouwerkerk, president/CEO of the $2.1 billion Travis Credit Union of Vacaville, Calif., sat on a panel that was moderated by Gigi Hyland, executive director of the National Credit Union Foundation.
Phillips described how Freedom First cooperated with local non-profit organizations to put a credit union branch in a building the organizations would share in the most economically depressed part of the community.
'This is a place without any grocery stores,” Phillips said. “No bank branches – they all failed or left. No large employers. High and visible crime. Numerous building code violations. In short, not the sort of place you would put a credit union branch, but that is what we are doing.”
Phillips said the new branch would offer financial products and services in a way community leaders hoped would help spur economic development and support the provision of social services in the one shared location.
Geary described how her credit union collaborated with local organizations to bring several different financial education programs and services, such as tax preparation sites under the IRS' Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program, into Washington-area public schools, public housing developments and community centers.
Geary described how particularly effective Reality Fairs had been in the schools. In Reality Fairs, students simulate real world financial conditions to learn in a controlled environment how much things cost in the real world, and why they needed to save money and learn to better use credit.
Van Ouwerkerk described how Travis used a similar program, called Mad City Money, to perform similarly guided financial education programs to make similar points with high school students there.
In each instance, the CEOs stressed that the credit union had been able to have a far greater impact on their communities because they had collaborated with other organizations already working in those communities.
Hyland praised all their efforts, noting that each represented a willingness to think creatively and cooperate on new products and services or presenting familiar products and services in a new context.
“Some of you might know that I am a foodie, I like food and I like to cook,” Hyland said. She described the idea of having a credit union take a table at farmers market to both sign up new members, and also offer member business loans to vendors, who are assumed entrepreneurs.