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<p>SEATTLE – First Immigrant’s Funding knew from the get go that it wanted to expand from offering just mortgage products to the immigrant communities in the city, to opening a financial that would provide them a wider array of services. In July, the mortgage lending company will celebrate the opening of New American Credit Union, the first credit union in the state whose field-of-membership will include five immigrant populations that reside or work in Seattle. At press time, David Cote, president/CEO of First Immigrant’s Funding, the credit union’s sole sponsor, was waiting for final approval from NCUA and the Credit Union Division of the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions. He said he expected to receive it “any day.” Although Cote and First Immigrant’s Board have only been working on organizing and sponsoring the credit union since December 2001, the plans for the financial have actually been seven years in the making. First Immigrant’s Funding has been providing conforming mortgages to immigrants in the Seattle area since the company opened its doors for business in July 1995. It started out serving the Hispanic community, and has since expanded to serve the Russian/Ukranian, various Asian, West Indian/African, and East Indian communities in the city as well. First Immigrant’s provides mortgages in 14 languages, and 10 of the company’s 12 employees speak more than one language. “When people hear about providing mortgages to immigrants, they tend to assume they have to be subprime loans. The mortgages we’ve provided are all prime rate. Of the 1,200 loans we’ve made, not one borrower has defaulted,” said Cote. First Immigrant’s typically closes about $2.7 million in mortgages annually. The company offers both fixed and adjustable rate loans, but Cote says borrowers only want the fixed rate product. Despite immigrants’ ability to handle credit, Cote admitted that taking a mortgage application from an immigrant can be a very “labor intensive process. You don’t have the luxury like you would with other borrowers of being able to pull a credit report. You have to create non-traditional credit from anything that requires installment payments like rent or utilities,” Cote said. Cote, who also founded the company and has both a S&L background as well as credit union experience – he worked from 1992-1995 at Pacific CU in Seattle setting up their mortgage division – said he gave First Immigrant’s five years from when it began doing business to prove his premise that there was a need among borrowers for more than just mortgage products. It did, and in July 2000 Cote began putting together plans to open a savings bank. “New community banks were the `in’ thing in Seattle at the time, they were popping up everywhere,” he recalled. After about a year and a half in to the process, Cote heard from the FDIC that the agency had “many concerns” about the idea of First Immigrant’s opening a savings bank to serve the immigrant community. “They couldn’t believe it could be profitable to offer mortgages to immigrants at the market rate. The FDIC felt the only way for mortgages to immigrants to be profitable would be if they were at predatory lending rates. There was even one woman from the FDIC who thought the whole `money under the mattress’ idea was a myth, even though I told her I had 1,200 home loans to prove it,” said Cote. Realizing that the FDIC’s terms were unacceptable, Cote looked for an alternative. The solution – open a credit union. He got on the phone with Parker Cann, the former director of the state’s credit union division. The rest is history. New American CU will initially have a low-income designation. Cote said his “understanding” is that 90 days from when the credit union begins doing business, it will apply for a community charter with a low income designation. To build up its deposit base, Cote wants to establish $1.5 million as a starting point. So far he’s received $1.1 million in long terms deposits from credit unions in Washington State and Oregon. As a low income credit union, New American CU can establish secondary capital. Cote said First Immigrant’s Funding has committed $100,000 for pre-organization expenses and another $400,000 for secondary capital. New American CU will be housed in the same North Seattle facility where First Immigrant’s Funding is located. Cote said the company deliberately built the facility out because it knew at the time that it had in its future plans to open a financial. When asked how he came up with the name for the credit union, Cote explained that the name for the original bank planned was First Immigrant’s Savings. “9/11 put a taint on the word `immigrant,’ so when we decided to open a credit union our board decided it was better to come up with a different name. We had a contest among our staff to see who would come up with the best name, and we chose `New American’ because that is what the members who are immigrants are.” [email protected]</p>

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