BRONX, N.Y. – Hoping to appeal to more residents here who don’t have a relationship with a financial institution, amid fanfare and high hopes, Bethex Federal Credit Union opened a second branch to meet their needs. More than 100 people including Bethex members, local officials and credit union industry representatives from NCUA and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions were on hand to celebrate the branch’s opening on Aug. 23. The new Mott Haven branch, a compact storefront of only a few hundred square feet, features three secure teller stations as well as an area for officials. The Empowerment Zone in Upper Manhattan/Bronx, a federal program that provides billions of dollars for job-creation and community-development projects in urban and rural areas, were among a handful of funding sources, investing $350,000 in the new branch. “This neighborhood was crying out for a credit union and people are joining at a record pace, but this branch is not just about serving low-income members,” said Joy Cousminer, Bethex’s treasurer and manager. “The value is also in people from the community being able to manage the credit union in a professional and successful way.” In fact, the three credit union employees are former public assistance recipients and “because they know and love their community, they’re serving not giving,” Cousminer said. After three years of working with NCUA and New York’s banking regulator, Bethex finally got the go-ahead to start a pilot program in June with Rite Check Cashing Store so that credit union members can make deposits, withdrawals and loan payments in check-cashing outlets in lieu of full-service branches. Members use a point-of-banking terminal in the cashers store to deposit funds via automated clearinghouse. The outlet’s teller would accept the physical form of deposit but funds already would be added to the credit union account in real time. Withdrawals would work in much the same way as an ATM. Despite its good intentions, the alliance has drawn some criticism Cousminer said because of the “negative perceptions of check cashers.” “It’s one of these things that we believe has held up (the process) because of negative perceptions of check cashers rather than any real worry about safety and soundness,” she said. While there aren’t any hard numbers on the total transactions conducted so far, the pilot has gone relatively smoothly and the testing phase will continue for the next six months, Cousminer said. Point-of-banking terminals are scheduled to be placed in 13 check-cashing stores by the end of the pilot. With plans to open a third branch in the Hunts Point neighborhood on Sept. 6, Bethex has steadily increased its membership to 9,000 and $7.5 million in assets in part due to a few mergers between smaller credit unions in the area. Bethex’s own groundbreaking in the late 1980s came about through a number of partnerships, said Clifford Rosenthal, NFCDCU’s executive director, who spoke at the new branch ceremony. Early support from Chemical Bank (later, J.P. Morgan Chase Bank), the NFDCU’s Empire State Development Corporation, under the New York State Community Development Financial Institutions and the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund were all major contributors to Bethex’s success, Rosenthal said. Others speakers at the ceremony were Layne Bumgardner, regional director of NCUA’s Albany office and Congressman Jos Serrano, who represents the 16th district here in the House of Representatives. – [email protected]

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