MILWAUKEE – In a bid to reach the "unbanked," a group of Wisconsin credit unions has begun offering non-member check cashing through a standalone branch service center in suburban Brown Deer. The service, which debuted July 15 and is offered through a CUSO, Wisconsin Credit Union Shared Service Centers Inc., is a first for the Milwaukee area, according to the CUSO's president, Rick Hagopian. "We feel this kind of service is an attractive alternative to provide checking access at reasonable rates," said Hagopian who noted the aim is to interest potential new members who ordinarily would be handling transactions at other institutions. Expectations are high, he said, that by offering check cashing the service center "can build a trusted relationship" with these new members. The CUSO is owned by 45 Wisconsin CUs and the Wisconsin Credit Union League. Hagopian said plans are to add the check cashing service to a second standalone unit in Waukesha starting in August. Both Waukesha and Brown Deer are part of the Atlanta-based Credit Union Service Corp. network as well as a third service center in Greenfield which may be included in the mix later on, Hagopian said. Brett A. Thompson, president of the Wisconsin League, said the check cashing concept is one that can be valuable "and is consistent" with efforts by CUs to reach individuals who "are not being served" fairly by the high-rate independent check cashing outlets which have mushroomed in many cities. The Brown Deer center said it is charging a $5 minimum or a flat 2%, which is below the 3-5% rate at typical check cashiers, many with a tiered schedule. Separately, Filene Research Center in Madison, which has its own pilot check cashing program underway across the nation including a facility started in June in nearby Beloit, applauded the Milwaukee venture as a good example of how CUs can tap into a new market to attract new members. Filene said it has signed up five state Leagues including Wisconsin for its program aimed at providing an alternative to payday lenders. First Community CU of Beloit is among the first to start the Filene pilot with 12-15 more CUs added through yearend.

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