Credit Unions Doing the Hard Things: Disruption '17
“Credit unions are perfectly positioned for doing the hard things,” said Laura Woods, vice president of marketing and community presence for 1st Financial Federal Credit Union, based in St. Louis. Woods was one of the featured speakers on the first day of Disruption ’17 by CU Water Cooler.
The credit union conference, hosted this year in downtown Madison, Wis., has drawn nearly 200 credit union and cooperative professionals from around the country for what many consider a more edgy credit union conference experience and hosted by Matt Davis, founder at gameFI, Inc. and Tim McAlpine, president and creative director of Currency Marketing.
Woods discussed “The Differentiator of Doing Hard Things,” a presentation about the lengths to which her credit union is going to provide financial assistance to underserved and high-risk neighborhoods in St. Louis.
“We have a population of people who do not trust the banking industry after decades of unfair and discriminatory lending practices,” said Woods.
Her credit union started savings and lending programs focused on several population groups, including the youth and elementary school-aged children in underserved areas of St. Louis. One particular effort set up savings allocations for youth to give them the tools to start a savings program. According to Woods, since 2014 those participating in the program have saved nearly $30,000.
“Yes, young people are risky and at-risk neighborhoods are risky,” said Woods. She added that while the programs are gaining traction and building a foundation for a better community, the credit union does lose some money on programs such as this.
“Losses, for sure – and we’re always making it better for the member and we are saying ‘Yes!’ and that’s so incredibly powerful,” said Woods.
She described, what is considered to be a radical and a somewhat controversial program for kindergarten students in the St. Louis public school system. As Woods explained it, the credit union began opening up a savings account for “every single kindergartener and that money is only to be used for a college education.”
She said that there’s been more than $400,000 deposited into savings accounts under this program. “By doing this, we are breaking down generations of (financial) intimidation, regulatory red tape and barriers because we’re trying to set up financial stability for people working through the education system.”
Woods added that this program hasn’t been without it’s pains. “It’s a complete compliance nightmare, but we believed in the program to move it forward,” said Woods.
Woods and her credit union appear to believe that the CU industry should be leaders for the underserved. “Leadership in every capacity – it’s really f’ing hard,” she said. “But we can do hard things.”