HOUSTON, Texas – At a time when new credit union charters are less common than CU mergers, another faith-based group has received charter approval to form a credit union. Light Commerce Credit Union, which has a potential membership of greater than 23,000, is expected to open its doors on the north side of the city in April 2003. The idea for a credit union was conceived by Dr. Ira Van Hilliard, pastor of New Light Christian Center Church, which has three locations in Houston, one in Austin and one in Beaumont, Texas. "As pastor, I often teach principles of financial stewardship. Light Commerce Credit Union is a ministry of New Light Christian Center Church that will allow God's people to be served. LCCU will provide educational resources that reflect biblical principles to encourage wise stewardship of each member's resources," Hilliard said. But stewardship is a two-way street, according to Hilliard. "LCCU will exercise stewardship with its members' money. We are dedicated to the highest level of accountability, professionalism, personal concern and integrity. LCCU will safeguard member assets and make prudent loans and investments of member funds. LCCU will be staffed with skilled employees who are truly concerned about the members." The new credit union's field of membership includes not only members and employees of the five church facilities, but also a Christian school, a daycare and a non-profit community development corporation affiliated with the church. "The field of membership is excited about LCCU, and we look forward to its opening," Hilliard said. At least in Texas, churches seem to be taking a closer look at credit unions as a means of educating their members concerning financial responsibility. "In the last five charters that we have assisted, four of them were faith-based in origin," said Tom Hodge, TCUL vice president of sales & marketing. "I don't know if this would constitute a trend, but it certainly indicates a need." Hodge went on to say that TCUL assists all groups interested in applying with NCUA or with the Texas Credit Union Department in obtaining a charter. "We try and get involved at an early stage to keep these new groups from making the typical mistakes in the process. It can take up to a year to get a charter, and we want to streamline that process as much as possible." The typical charter involves defining the field of membership, determining the viability of that group and establishing a corporate structure with a competent board and supporting committees. Following completion of these efforts, TCUL assists groups in constructing a three-year business plan that provides the regulator with detailed information on how the credit union will provide a physical location, a data processing system, policies and procedures and a trained staff. It also contains financial information including a month-to-month proforma with a net worth goal of at least 5% by the end of a three-year period. TCUL then helps complete the new charter by compiling all this information along with the necessary legal documents to complete the package for submission to either the federal or state agency. "Some groups need a lot of support, while others only require limited guidance," explained Hodge. "We are here to help them all." It took less than four months for this credit union to receive approval of its charter application once submitted, according to the credit union's manager, Harlene Johnson. "We began researching and working on the application process in September 2001. We submitted our application to the TCUD a year later. They called and commended us for putting together a complete and thorough package. Prior to submission, we wanted an examiner sent out, so that we could minimize the time between application and approval. TCUD suggested that we submit our application and they would process and communicate any deficiencies," she said. In addition to assistance from TCUL, Johnson said the church had help from at least three other credit unions, the Houston Chapter of Credit Unions, Partners-In-Progress (a local group of small credit unions) and the TCUD. Light Commerce Credit Union will open a facility in an office complex on Crown Park Drive, near one of the church locations. Johnson, who has a background in finance and commercial banking and is currently serving the credit union in a volunteer capacity, said the credit union initially will offer share accounts and money market accounts. Signature loans, share-secured loans, new and used auto loans will be added once deposits attain a certain level. The credit union will host banking days at the different church locations and will offer ACH services, mail deposits and loans-by-phone. Home banking and shared branching alternatives will be considered in the future, she said. "We have received tremendous support from the church membership – 95.7% of the members responding to our survey indicated they would support a credit union," she said. -

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