MADISON, Wis. — Those from low-income households need access to viable financial products as services just as much as other households and the Missouri Credit Union Association is stepping up to provide that accessibility.

The association has teamed up with Filene Research Institute's REAL Solutions program, which provides guidance, business models, training, products and services to CUs looking to better serve low-wealth households. In 2004, Filene restructured its check cashing business opportunities project into a broader one entitled Relevant, Effective, Asset-building, Loyalty-producing services solutions or REAL Solutions. "In order to build solid long-term relationships with members, credit unions need to become part of the fabric of their community," says Rosie Holub, president, Missouri CU Association. "We believe the REAL Solutions program will give our credit unions the additional tools they need to achieve meaningful outreach goals." Missouri joins Wisconsin, Maryland and Ohio in partnering with REAL. In 2005, REAL worked in partnership with close to 70 credit unions and their state leagues. This fall, Filene staff and representatives from credit unions that have successfully implemented a program will hold two full-day sessions at the league office in St. Louis in September. The first session will introduce the program and a second meeting six-to-eight weeks later will determine which strategies are working best. According to Filene, REAL Solutions builds on insights obtained from extensive research it and other organizations conducted. The program also encourages credit unions to facilitate the path to financial growth for members of modest means and also meets credit unions' needs. "Participating credit unions will be free to choose the specific products and services they wish to develop," said Nancy Pierce, president of Tipton Research Group and manager of the REAL Solutions program in Missouri. "The success of the program in other states indicates that the best approach is to allow participating credit unions to determine which products are the best fit for their particular field of membership." Typically, Pierce adds, that has been some type of payday lending product. Filene Director of Field Projects Lois Kitsch said REAL Solutions has made significant strides in its first two years of operation. "Our first order of business is to recruit participating credit unions based on their commitment to implementing innovative transaction and savings products and providing the resources to be successful," Kitsch said. "Resources are allocated based on the willingness and aptitude for trying new activities, the probability of success and level of available resources. We're very happy to see a broad range of innovative solutions being explored by participating credit unions, and the kind of cooperation that will ultimately allow replication of these efforts." Kitsch said the program's success will be measured by the number of new consumers using credit union services. Ongoing measurements of success will allow for enhancements to allow time to incubate new ideas, she added. The National Credit Union Foundation recently said it will take over managing REAL Solutions (CU Times, Aug. 2).

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