The headline tells it all: This Black Barber Opened The First Credit Union In Arkansas Since 1996.
It is the story of Arlo Washington’s journey to create People Trust Community FCU chartered in September 2022. The article in Next City describes Arlo’s journey after his mother died in 1995. He followed a mentor’s model and became a barber. His business instincts led him to open multiple shops and organize a barber college.
At the barber college he set aside $1,000 per month from profits to make small loans to the community. This micro lending service grew until the lending program was converted into a CDFI. People Trust Community Loan Fund, the government recognized non-profit, then became the basis for his credit union charter application.
The Story within the Story
The author, Oscar Abello, also weaves in another, longer tale, of the decline in new credit union charters. Several of his observations follow:
It’s never been very easy to start a credit union, but it used to be easier and much more frequent than it has been in recent years. Prior to 1970, it was common to see 500 or 600 new credit unions chartered every year across the entire country.
People Trust was one of four new credit unions chartered in 2022; just 25 new credit unions have been chartered over the past 10 years. . .
There are almost always more interested groups looking to establish new credit unions, says Monica Copeland, MDI network director at Inclusiv, a trade group for credit unions focused on low-to-moderate income communities, “but it’s hard to track until they actually get through the process. It takes organizing groups years.”. . .
Or take Everest Federal Credit Union, which is based in Queens, New York and serving Nepali immigrants across the country. Its organizers started their work in 2015 and only recently opened for business. Part of their challenge was the startup capital they had to raise, from donations they ultimately gathered over the past seven years from hundreds of donors across the country.
Each of these efforts has had to go through the National Credit Union Administration – the federal agency that charters, regulates and insures deposits held at U.S. credit unions. . .
There are multiple reasons for the dramatic falloff in new credit unions since 1970. Now a credit union consultant, Brian Gately worked as a credit union examiner at the NCUA in the ‘70s and ‘80s. According to Gately, the agency gradually lost touch with its purpose over the course of his tenure.
He started out winning awards for helping new credit unions get chartered to serve vulnerable communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but eventually left after refusing orders from higher-ups to shut down a new credit union serving a largely Puerto Rican migrant community on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.”
The article presents further examples of the chartering hurdles. These challenges help a reader understand the miracle that any new credit union charter represents today.
Missing the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs
According to the Commerce Institute over 5.0 million new small businesses were started in 2022. Only 4 new credit union charters were issued last year. During the year credit unions announced or completed four to five times that number of whole bank purchases.
Credit unions are not tapping into America’s inherent entrepreneurial market-based culture. A system that fails to attract new entrants will slowly mature, consolidate and lose relevance. Other startups will arise intent on taking away a declining industry’s current and future customers.
The article is an engaging description of one person’s efforts to pursue the possibilities of a credit union charter. It also documents how difficult that process is, especially as it depicts NCUA’s role.
If a reporter who does not follow credit unions as a regular beat can so thoroughly document the new charter failings of the movement, why can’t credit unions see this challenge?
It raises the question as well of how many interested charter groups give up in frustration and look elsewhere for financial services?