University Student Entrepreneurs Win–but Credit Union Charter Still Distant After Six Years

The current generation of students is attracted to business and social startups.  Many major universities now offer competitions encouraging students to design and launch new business and non-profit ideas.

These efforts are so widespread that there are now multiple rankings of the leading programs at colleges and universities across the country.  Here is one showing the top 20 competitions.

One of the leading forums is at  George Washington University, here in DC.  The results of its annual New Venture Competition were just announced.

In their 2023 contest, 417 participants spread across 161 teams participated. Judges awarded $357,200 in prizes, including $163,000 in cash to the winners.

Twelve finalists received a minimum of $5,000, across four tracks: Business Goods and Services, Social Innovation, Consumer Goods and Services and Healthcare and Life Sciences Tracks.

Participants represented nine of the 10 GW schools resulting in a diverse range of innovative startup solutions.

GW President Mark S. Wrighton commented on the outcome: “If this is an indication of the next generation of problem solvers, then we are all in good hands. It is extraordinarily impressive to hear about the diverse set of new businesses.” 

The full profile of all winners in all five tracks and their ideas can be seen in this listing.

A Credit Union Winner

In April 2018 three GW freshman from  different academic schools devoted much of their first year in college to this competition.  They reached the finals and were awarded $10,000 to continue implementing their project.

Their new venture proposal was to charter a credit union for the GW students and community.  I recorded their five minute “pitch” on my iPhone from the audience.

Their words provide the promise that every credit union offers including the need and importance of financial literacy, member ownership and direction, online delivery, better rates, and strengthening the community with a firm “run by students for students.”  Their slides are in the background on stage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_xCpDe9a3U

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_xCpDe9a3U)

What Happened?

Dozens of students volunteered their time to complete the charter application, the group raised over $100,000 in donated capital and recruited an experienced advisory board of credit union professionals and GW faculty.

NCUA has twice rejected hundreds of pages for the  charter applications.  The agency has requested updated market surveys, revised financials, and numerous other shortcomings, all the while hinting that more capital would be desirable.

Meanwhile the three freshman who devoted a significant part of their college career to this effort have graduated; however two still serve on the advisory board.  New student volunteers have persevered to carry on the founders’ original concepts.

NCUA has not assisted but rather stalled this six- year effort.

This status occurs despite the words in the February 28 presentation by NCUA’s Vice Chairman, Kyle Hauptman at this year’s CUNA’s GAC conference:

Our society isn’t the best at getting people to save and invest. This is where credit unions come in, with financial literacy and savings programs that improve their members’ financial wellness.

Financial wellness can save relationships. Financial wellness is a great product that we only buy if we value it more than all the cool ways to spend money. Credit unions help people achieve financial wellness. . . Financial issues can be a dry topic, but it’s not about the money itself – it’s about living your best life.

My three personal priorities for my term are:

  • Revamping the de novo chartering process. . .

I’ve good news on all three fronts.

On the issue of de novos, we’ve revamped and streamlined the chartering process. We will be rolling out a provisional credit union charter that fixes the chicken & egg problem, whereby a potential credit union wants to get its initial capital from a CDFI but can’t get that capital until we’ve issued them a charter. Still, we wouldn’t issue the charter until that credit union has the capital.

I’m proud of these improvements – I think it’s a part of facilitating true financial inclusion. I love seeing announcements about new charters. . .

Except this streamline chartering process does not exist. When asked about this “improvement” and the “provisional credit union charter”, there is no response.   That effort, like credit union chartering, is stillborn.

Instead of supporting the next generation’s startup energy and goals to serve their community via coops, the NCUA is teaching potential supporters about the age-old witticism, “I’m from the government and here to help you.”

Apparently even board members cannot accomplish their priorities.  How can de novo credit unions overcome the bureaucratic obstacles that even NCUA’s leadership is unable to move forward?

New credit unions are an endangered species.  The future of the coop system is at risk.  Not because the billion dollar segment which manages 75% of assets will disappear.

Rather it is because this generation of student entrepreneurs is unable to overcome government impediments.  The result is that  these motivated, creative individuals will find their opportunities for the benefits presented in the “pitch” above through other creative organizations.  I suspect they will be called FinTechs.

 

A Prophetic Voice

Last week I asked if credit unions today needed a prophet’s wisdom.   I was motivated by one of C-Span programs which presents recordings of historical speeches by leaders at important moments in American history.

Hearing the original voices of leaders summoning their listeners to action still inspires today. The experience is both fruitful and edifying.

The reason is that the truths contained within these appeals transcend time. They are not merely words that endure in time, they are words that are beyond time.   Their underlying truths do not change with circumstance, nor are they changed by it.

The actions called forth do not merely meet the challenge at a moment in  time; they are the standard by which time itself is tested.

The paradox is that the timeless is always timely. If it is timeless and, if it’s always true, it is always relevant.

The Context for Chairman Callahan’s 1984 GAC Address

The 1980-1982 economic crisis was over.  Interest rates and inflation were in back to single digits.  Deregulation was well underway.  Credit union growth and financial performance led all financial institutions.

The NCUA’s DC bureaucracy had been reorganized to reduce central office roles and put the six regional directors in positions of administrative leadership.   The CLF had been capitalized in partnership with the corporate network so that every credit union had access.

There was a common commitment by the cooperative system to support expanding credit unions services to all Americans through new charters and increased FOM options on the 50th anniversary of the Federal Credit Union Act.

But there was one institutional innovation still needed to solidify an independent and sound cooperative system.  This was the primary topic of Chairman Callahan’s 1984 GAC presentation.

He called on credit unions to “Finish the Job.”  Here is a recording of that request which which is 12 minutes following CUNA President, Joe Cugini’s brief introduction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UcXPyUMtic&list=PLfsu0zcct30-jB6oqaROWiXhaJ6xTBuLd&index=2

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1UcXPyUMtic&list=PLfsu0zcct30-jB6oqaROWiXhaJ6xTBuLd&index=2)

The call was answered. Today the NCUSIF is still the example of insurance that has stood the test of time.

 

What Would a “Prophet” Say to Credit Unions Today?

What were credit unions organized to do and to be?

Answering that never-ending question can be expressed as a vision or mission statement.  Sometimes the answer is a labelled a “calling.”  How does a coop know if it is fulfilling its destiny?

The Prophet’s Role

“The work of prophets is to warn, to warn people of the inevitable consequences of their foolish or immoral actions. It will be the end of the world as you know it, the prophets say, unless you rethink your current assumptions, values, and priorities, unless you become ready to change your way of life. Usually, the people don’t listen. “  (Adapted from Brian McLaren, “Weeping and Lamentation”)

April is Earth Month.  Tomorrow is EarthDay. One of the most well known prophets of our planet’s future is profiled in this documentary.

(https://youtu.be/Mwk10YGPFiM)

Prophets warn us, but many times few listen; when the inevitable consequences come, that is how a movement can be reborn.  Or else absorbed into the status quo.

Is there anyone with this gift in your credit union?  In the movement?   How would we recognize them?  Or are they just seen as trouble-makers?

 

 

 

 

American Pastimes:  Baseball and Credit Unions

The culture of credit unions-locally founded, community centered, volunteer led by committed fans-mirrors  the passion for baseball across America.

Recently I published the story of Day Air Credit Union’s support for the Dayton Dragons minor league franchise.  The team has the longest running consecutive sellouts of any professional sports team in America.

Credit unions are involved in the sport across the country.  From sponsorships of local Little Leagues to  university teams to minor league affiliations up to PenFed’s  support for the Washington Nationals, baseball and credit unions are natural allies.

Recently a baseball player at Springfield High (Illinois) where I graduated decades ago, wrote his thoughts on baseball’s lessons for life for the student newspaper, The Senator.  The author, Seth Impson, seems an excellent player based on his self description.

His thoughts about the sport show why baseball is often called The Game of Life.

Anyone who knows me knows I live for the game of baseball. There’s nothing better than the smell of pine tar and the sound of a ball hitting the bat. Nothing better than feeling the wind in your face as you round third base. Nothing better than dirt and dust flying everywhere as you slide into home. But it is more than just a game; baseball has taught me a lot about life.

  1. If it’s close, swing the bat.

Too many times in life fear keeps us from trying something new or different. We let opportunities pass us by because we’re afraid we might fail. Then later we wish we would have gone for it. In baseball, if a pitch is close, you have to take a chance and swing. It’s the same way in life– it’s better to give something your best shot and risk failure than to stand there looking while the perfect opportunity flies by.

  1. You’re only as good as the guys behind you.

I had a lot of success pitching last year. I struck out 79 guys, walked 17 and only gave up 54 hits. But I threw 65 innings. I faced 264 batters. Do the math- the guys on the field behind me made plays and got 114 guys out. Over 100 times, a batter hit the pitch I threw to him and someone else on my team made a play. Only 16 of those 264 players scored runs against us. Without those guys on the field with me, my season would not have been anything special. In life, surround yourself with people who have your back and will make those plays when you most need them.

  1. Practice makes better.

No, that’s not a mistake. I didn’t mean to say “practice makes perfect.” The fact is it doesn’t. No one can ever be perfect. There is always room for improvement. But if you put in the work, you will get better. Work each and every day to come further than you were the day before and bettering yourself. The goal of life is to make yourself a better person than you were the day before, baseball is the same way.  You will see growth.

  1. Don’t let them see you sweat.

There are moments in a baseball game where you find yourself under intense pressure. When your team is down by one with a runner on third and two outs and you’re up to bat. When you are on the mound about to face the best hitter in the conference. Whatever it is, you can’t let the other guys know you’re stressed. You can’t let someone else get in your head. Take a deep breath and focus on the task you need to accomplish.

  1. Failure builds character.

Baseball is a game of failure. In the MLB, a batting average of .300 or higher is considered good. That means a player gets a hit 3 out of every 10 tries. That also means 7 out of 10 times, that player gets out. On Tuesday I flew out, struck out and walked. I didn’t get a single hit. But the next day I hit two triples and a homerun.

In baseball, you will fail. Life is the same way. You just can’t let failure stop you from getting up and trying again, because the next day things might go your way and you’ll find yourself right where you want to be. This builds persistence and in every tough, successful person there are characteristics that sets them apart. Baseball brings out these certain things, builds them up and creates strong character. 

 

Money Management and the Voices of Gen Z

Each year the Credit Union Foundation of Maryland and DC sponsors a contest to distribute $12,000 in scholarships for college and trade school bound students.

There are three categories of awards:  ten $1,000 essay-based scholarships, one $1,000 video-based scholarship, and/or one $1,000 photo-based scholarship.

The topics for each category this year are:

This year’s essay topic: In life, things can happen fast.  “More than two-thirds of people in America are not financially healthy. How would you define financial health? Describe how your credit union has helped you understand how to manage your money.”

This year’s video topic: “To be financially literate, or financially healthy, is to know how to manage your money. Show one lesson you’ve learned from your credit union about managing your money.”

Photographers are asked to capture an original photograph that represents the credit union core value of “Cooperation”

The contest is marketed through the League’s member credit unions.   The Foundation provides lobby posters, newsletter articles and access to all applications.   The result:  hundreds of submissions in all three categories received by April 15.

The Judging Begins

Now the fun begins. The foundation seeks over a hundred volunteers to review the submissions.  I signed up.  I was sent 19 one-minute videos and 10 essays to review and score.   The foundation provides a scoring model for the evaluations.  The progress is tracked automatically in a spread sheet for each volunteer reviewer.

A Generation’s View of Financial Health

I started with the 19 one-minute videos and reviewed all in a single sitting.   Some were applicants sharing their personal stories.  Others were more elaborate creations with one offering a “film” on the topic.  Some acted out short skits.  Several used animations to create their message.

What all had communicated was common sense money management suggestions or experiences.  The submissions showed clear financial maturity.  Following are three different approaches to the topic.

The first uses animation to communicate the lessons from a first-year college student.

(https://www.youtube.com/shorts/svZv-szOgCo)

A second video took a different tack and discussed just one topic: should a young person buy crypto or not?

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mrsj5AsZjI)

Another example by a high school student demonstrates the benefits of financial courses helping younger people understand the basics of money management.  The word she uses for the result is empowerment.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gYkoreEXmHY)

The Power of  Gen Z’s Financial Minute

While my sample of videos is a small portion of the hundreds submitted, these brief summaries show an awareness of financial skills that are well grounded.  These minute videos are literate, smart and often creative messages on the basics of financial life.

The Foundation’s contest is much more impactful than just the $12,000 distributed to the winners.   It provides hundred of personal snapshots of this generation’s awareness of financial responsibility.

These submissions rarely mentioned credit unions, but all of the applicants would have learned about the opportunity via a credit union.

For the hundreds of students continuing their post high school education, the volunteers reading the applications and the credit unions promoting the contest, this is a special cooperative effort.   It highlights the Foundation’s mission of financial self-sufficiency.

The student, volunteer and institutional contributions meld into a financial quilt of financial learnings from the upcoming generation of credit union members.

My only thought: Can more credit unions individually or collectively create this learning opportunity.  Perhaps the MD/DC Foundation might  share their software and infrastructure that makes this seem so effortless.

I certainly learned much.  It  creates confidence in this new generation’s understanding of financial responsibility.

 

 

 

Spring’s Abundance & Credit Union Bouquets

Cherry tree

Cupid keeps watch over his beauty.

Azalea

Cherokee Dogwood

Tulips

Plox with pansies, carnation and daffodils.

Redbud flowers growing on tree trunk.

Easter Lilly transplanted after church.

Spring Flowers from Government

On Monday April 10  U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund) announced over $1.73 billion in grants to 603 Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) across the country.

CDFI Equitable Recovery Program (CDFI ERP) grants are intended to strengthen the ability of CDFIs to help low- and moderate-income communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and invest in long-term prosperity.

The release said 203 credit unions received $590.3 million in awards.  Peoples Advantage FCU in Petersburg, VA and four Puerto Rican Cooperativas were  each awarded $6,197,097, the largest single amount to a credit union.

Also getting in on springtime action the NCUA on April 5, announced it would take applications in five categories to award a total of $3.5 million from its Community Development Revolving Loan Fund (CDRLF).  Amounts will range from $5,000 for training to $50,000 “Underserved Outreach and MDI Capacity Building.”

The Member-Owners’ Annual Meeting: Compliance Obligation or Celebration?

I attended my first credit union 2023 annual meeting recently.  No, I was not a member.  However the credit union published its Zoom link.   Anyone could follow along with the hundreds of members who attended in person.

The agenda was informative.   The CEO and three senior staff made presentations-all specific updates on future projects.   This formal meeting had apparently been preceded by an all-hands gathering soliciting open dialogue.    Questions were asked from the members,  but few spoke up.

It was a positive experience.  Well organized.  Direct communication that was respectful of the owners. The post-covid combination of in-person and virtual participation expands the opportunities for real member engagement and owner feedback.

But that is not every credit union’s plan.

The Required Meeting Notice

Yesterday I received an email with the Notice of my credit union’s 2023 Annual Meeting.  It opened with these words:

We are conducting the 2023 Annual meeting by Electronic Transmission as provided in Section 411 of the Amended and Restated Bylaws of the Credit Union effective April 28, 2017 (the “Bylaws”). The Annual Meeting will be hosted by video conference on April 28, 2023, at 5pm PT. Members can register by submitting an email request to annualmeeting@thecu.org.  Questions will not be taken during the Annual Meeting, so please submit any questions that you have in advance along with your attendance request. Answers will be provided during the virtual meeting.

The Notice then listed the material that could be downloaded in advance, such as the 2022 Annual Report, prior minutes and concluded:

Please note that there is no new business to discuss. The only matter requiring a vote of the members in attendance is approval of the 2022 Annual Meeting minutes. The four Directors nominated will be approved by acclamation of the Board of Directors as provided by the Bylaws.

The Notice ended with a brief economic update from the CEO headed:

We’re in this together 

The CEO’s comments summarized important market events in 2022 and the outlook for the coming year.  The message ends with these words:

Whatever 2023 brings, the credit union has the financial stability to continue supporting our members and helping them deal with whatever financial challenges come.

A Member “Woodstock” Celebration

Next month I was invited to a smaller credit union’s annual meeting to make very brief remarks to members.  To have an idea what might be appropriate I asked the CEO about the event.

It will be in the evening with dinner at the local Holiday Inn banquet room.  All members invited.  We will introduce new board members and go through the business.  There will be a local speaker who works at a non-profit in the areas we serve.  We hope you can give your thoughts about the future role our credit union can play in members’ lives and community.  You have 15 minutes. Expected attendance of 100-150.

We discussed the idea of brief video interviews with members to ask about their credit union experiences.  The CEO had done this at a prior credit union’s annual meeting with the question, if we were in a court of law, would anyone be willing to testify on the impact the credit union made on them?  Member after member told their story.

That is now being planned for  use in future member communications.

Prior to the event,  the CEO asked if I could visit the credit union, see the local community and some of the organizations with which they partner. And have dinner with the Board.  I jumped at the chance.

The CEO expects to retire next year. He has a transition plan underway and wants to affirm his belief in the credit union’s essential role and its vital future.

This is the kind of event that gets me excited.   I can’t wait to see his team, the credit union’s activities and hear the member stories.  A brief “Woodstock event” for the cooperative’s member-owners.  And for me.

 

 

A Priest, a Barrio and a “Credit Union that Should Have Continued”

The story below is by a local El Paso reporter. It portrays a special credit union that served its community for four decades.  Its work mattered.

The coop system is more than current assets and member numbers. We are also the experiences and memories that we pass down.  This example raises the challenge today, who will remember our story?

The Forgotten Credit Union that Served Thousands of Unbanked El Pasoans

By Christian Bentancourt.  Published April 9, 2023 by El Paso Matters and  Next City

 

If you walk around El Paso’s Segundo Barrio neighborhood, it’s hard to avoid the legacy of the city’s beloved bicycle priest. Father Harold Joseph Rahm came to the city in 1952 and served as an assistant pastor at the historic Sacred Heart Church for 12 years.

In that short time, Rahm created a legacy that is still celebrated by residents: founding the Our Lady’s Youth Center to serve impoverished locals, creating outreach programs for low-income youth, working with gang members to clear their differences in the ring instead of the streets, riding his red bicycle around to reach community members in need.

Today, his efforts are memorialized in this Mexican and Mexican American barrio through several iconic murals, as well as a street that’s been named after him.

But one of Rahm’s most critical contributions to the neighborhood has been largely forgotten: Creating the Tepeyac Credit Union, a pioneering financial institution to serve Segundo Barrio’s unbanked residents and protect them from loan sharks.

A Forgotten Legacy

It’s a legacy that has largely been forgotten by El Pasoans. . . But through archival research and an interview with one of the credit union’s early board members, El Paso Matters and Next City have begun to unravel that history.

It’s a history that illustrates community-based financial institutions’ power to support unbanked and impoverished people – and shows how such economic initiatives were a core part of major movements for social justice in the city.

The historic neighborhood in which Rahm served was known as South El Paso until several pockets were designated as Segundo Barrio, Chihuahuita and Duranguito in the 1970s. Banks redlined the community, making it challenging for residents to obtain financial services.

“People needed loans, and the banks at that time discriminated against South El Paso,” local historian David Dorado Romo says. “There were redlining maps in the 1940s that deliberately neglected areas marked in red. Since people couldn’t qualify for any kind of loans, especially not for home improvement…the community had to create its own credit union.”

The 1961 Founding with a Chicano Cheerleader

In 1961, Father Rahm banded together with a group of local residents and activists to create the Tepeyac Credit Union. According to historian Romo, one of these collaborators was Abelardo “Lalo” Delgado, the prominent Chicano poet from El Paso, who served as one of the credit union’s first presidents.

“He was one of the people that would go throughout the community and let them know that these kinds of services were available,” says Romo. . .  “Lalo, he was a great activist and also a very well-known poet.”

Delgado, who died in 2004, is considered the “abuelito” (grandfather) of the Chicano literature movement, pioneering writing that reflected a commitment to social justice and illuminated Mexican American heritage and struggles.

“He was our cheerleader,” says Felipe Peralta, an early board member of Tepeyac.  Peralta had been a youth worker at the Our Lady Youth Center when he was invited to serve on the credit union’s board. “He was always motivating us to do more things.”

Father Rahm and Delgado collaborated at the Our Lady Youth Center. The center, created in 1953 and located at 515 S. Kansas, served as a home to programs for Segundo Barrio residents, including an employment center and the Tepeyac Credit Union.

“That was a place that generated a lot of social movement,” Romo says. “They had a lot of outreach projects for youths, they had the employment center — they would find jobs for people at Segundo Barrio — and they created the Tepeyac Credit Union. It was a religious, social work project in South El Paso.”

An Unusual Creation

Today, the notion of creating a credit union is unusual. In the past decade, only 25 credit unions have been chartered in the United States. . .Before 1970, it was common to see 500 or 600 new credit unions chartered every year.

Tepeyac only had two employees, according to former director Peralta: office manager Teresa Cordero and Mr. Flores, who was in charge of debt collection.“(Cordero) did a lot of work for the credit union,” Peralta says. “Mr. Flores, whenever he was around the neighborhood … you would not see anybody else because his job was to collect delinquent accounts. I can’t remember too many people defaulting on their loans.” Indeed, a 1971 El Paso Times article records that only 18 of 1,448 loans had gone uncollected.

“I remember even borrowing money for my second car,” Peralta says. “If I remember correctly, at one point, we had over a million dollars. It helped a lot of people to generate their credit. Once they establish credit with us, we will trust them with a little more money. It really helped a lot of people.”

 Making the News

A March 1961 newspaper article from the El Paso Herald-Post showed the Tepeyac Credit Union had potentially 30,000 members, between congregants in the parish at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church and employees and staff of Our Lady’s Youth Center.

“Much time, effort, and sacrifice went into the organization of this unique credit union,” the article reads. “Realizing the problems involved in setting up a credit union which serves a large low-income group, volunteer workers, El Paso Chapter of Credit Unions personnel and many others devoting themselves to the task of solving those problems.”

”Father Rahm and a man named Ed Morrisey raised interest amongst the potential members,” the El Paso Herald-Post article reads, “while others held workshops to explain the idea and principles of operation of a credit union.”

“Tepeyac Federal is considered a pioneer type credit union,” the news clipping says. “Prior to organization, its potential members had no access to credit union benefits and services. Experienced credit union workers now believe Tepeyac Federal Credit Union will not only succeed but will serve as a model … for the organization of similar credit unions elsewhere.”

The efforts of these activists helped create El Paso’s Chicano Movement for Mexican American civil rights, Romo explains: “They were serving the needs directly of the community that this local city government or state or federal governments were not meeting.”

“In 1972, when the La Raza Unida Party was organized, (Delgado) stood up and read his poetry to begin the whole conference.”

Building on a Legacy

In El Paso, the credit union built upon the legacy of Mexican American sociedades mutualistas. These mutual aid societies focused on economic cooperation and community service, flourishing from the 1890s onward.

“It worked a little bit like credit unions,” Romo says. “Whenever people had an emergency sickness in the family, definitely for funerals. They were almost like community insurance groups. There’s a long tradition that goes back to the late 19th century, here on the border of Mexican American communities looking out for each other.”

Information on key figures within the credit union is difficult to come by, but a few names stand out . . .Former director Peralta remembers John Falke – the credit union president in a 1967 . . . as a vital part of Tepeyac.“He was a veteran or involved in the military and did a lot of the groundwork. He would go out of his way to set up the whole thing.”

Another leader of Tepeyac was Henry Rayas, who served as president and is showcased in newspaper clippings from the early ‘60s . . .“He and his wife had 18 children,” Peralta recalls. “Once the children grew up and were a little bit more responsible, they would come and volunteer there.”

No Longer Operating

Today, the credit union is no longer operating. Tepeyac’s last statement of financial condition filed with the National Credit Union Administration was dated Dec. 31, 2003, showing $194,730 in total assets, 220 members and one part-time employee.

In December 2003, the Texas Credit Union Department received an application for Tepeyac to be absorbed into El Paso’s West Texas Credit Union, which had been chartered in 1964 to serve state employees in the area.

The state-chartered credit union “made a special effort to reach out to minority populations by offering a range of products that meet their particular needs,” according to a May 2002 hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. . .”These products including low-cost remittances back to Mexico, an affordable housing program and Individual Development Accounts, a form of savings account aimed at helping low-income individuals save toward assets and build long-term financial stability through matching funds.”

The CEO said that “credit unions like West Texas recognize that consumers and their members must give viable options to avoid the traps of predatory lenders. Credit unions have stepped up their efforts to combat predatory lenders in neighborhoods by offering affordable alternatives for both payday loans and mortgage loans.”

West Texas CU Liquidated

But after the credit union was “hammered by bad indirect loans,” per a Credit Union Times report, the National Credit Union Administration announced in 2009 that West Texas Credit Union had been liquidated “after determining the credit union was insolvent and [had] no prospects for restoring viable operations.”

San Antonio’s Security Service Federal Credit Union purchased the assets that year and assumed the member shares of West Texas, which had had $78 million in assets and was serving 25,000 members at that point.

“We Should Have Continued”

Peralta himself continues to be active in the community. . . “Everything that I have been fortunate to do, it has been because of El Segundo Barrio.”

After moving on from the credit union, he was involved with the Chicano movement. “My degree was in education. My goal was to teach at the public schools in South El Paso. But when I did my student teaching, I realized I was in over my head. Those kids were doing so badly that I knew that I couldn’t help them. So I went to try to help them with other stuff like housing.”

He looks back at Tepeyac’s board meetings, which also served as the credit union’s committee to approve loans, with nostalgia. “It was a really effective operation. It was one of the best things that we had going.”

“Now that I look back, it’s something that I feel we should have continued with.”

Are Credit Unions Being Disrupted?

Disruption is both an adjective and a noun.  A word to describe changes upsetting the status quo in a market.  And a way to compete against larger and stronger foes.

The business theory with this name was formalized by Clayton Christensen. In this interview with MIT magazine the essential ideas are laid out.  He describes the circumstances as follows:

Disruptive innovation describes a process by which a product or service powered by a technology enabler initially takes root in simple applications at the low end of a market — typically by being less expensive and more accessible — and then relentlessly moves upmarket, eventually displacing established competitors.

Disruptive innovations are not breakthrough innovations or “ambitious upstarts” that dramatically alter how business is done but, rather, consist of products and services that are simple, accessible, and affordable.

In this process identifying the “job to be done” for the consumer is an important insight.  See below for the example of a disruptive example coming at credit unions from below.

The Adjective

A second approach to understanding disruption is to identify some consequences that become visible in markets when the process is at work.   Is the credit union system being disrupted?  What would be indicators?  Who is doing it?

Author and speaker Greg Satell wrote in an April 1, 2023 article “4 Signs Your Industry is Being Disrupted.” Among the four are events that may be familiar.  Note he is not writing about credit unions or even financial services.  Some of his terminology may seem more appropriate to manufacturing, but I believe his observations are still helpful in understanding where competitors are emerging.

One sign is maturing technology.  The truth is that every major technology has a similar life cycle called an S-curve. It emerges weak, buggy and flawed. Adoption is slow. In time, it hits its stride and enters a period of rapid growth until maturity and an inevitable slowdown. That’s what’s happening now with digital technology and we can expect many areas to slow down in the years to come.

A second is consolidation, or mergers.  Yet when an industry is in decline, the forces external to the industry get the upper hand. With new market entrants and substitutes becoming more attractive, customers and suppliers are in a position to negotiate better deals, margins get squeezed and profits come under pressure.

That’s why a lot of consolidation in an industry is usually a bad sign. It means that firms within the industry don’t see enough opportunities to improve their business by serving their customers more effectively, through innovating their products or their business models. To maintain margins, they need to combine with each other to control supply (or I might call it vendor relationships). 

The third response he calls “rent seeking and regulatory capture.”

The goal of every business is to defy markets. Any firm at the mercy of supply and demand will find itself unable to make an economic profit — that is profit over and above its cost of capital. . .

That leaves entrepreneurs and managers with two viable strategies. The first is innovation. Firms can create new and better products that produce new value. The second, rent seeking, is associated with activities like lobbying and regulatory capture, which seeks to earn a profit without creating added value. In fact, rent seeking often makes industries less competitive. . .

It seems like they (rent seeking industries) are getting their money’s worth. . .Occupational licensing, (read new charters) . . . restrictions have coincided with a decrease in the establishment of new firms. If your industry is more focused on protecting existing markets than creating new ones, that is one sign that it is vulnerable to disruption.

His fourth indicator he calls the Inevitable Scandals.   He cites Thernos and WeWork as examples.

He might have included the ongoing compliance problems at Wells Fargo or the recent failures of well capitalized institutions such as Silicon Valley and Signature banks as “scandals”—although it is still unclear who all the contributors to these failures are.

Who Is Coming After Credit Unions’ Members?

Disruption is a constant factor in competitive markets.  Firms try to respond to these pressures in both self-protective ways as well as the more formal response in Christensen’s theory.

Where is credit union competition coming that  would fit both descriptions?  In many credit union consolidations scale is cited as the dominant motive, suggesting that bigger players are the greatest threat to credit unions’ future.   Apple Pay, Walmart Financials services, even some recent fintech firms such as Rocket Mortgage, SoFI or other product centric online platforms will take away critical member-product segments.

But my two favorite examples of disruptive competitors using Christensen’s analysis are Venmo’s peer to peer payment transfer and Chime, a neo bank.

Venmo was described by a 21 year old financial writer in an article last year.   The person-to-person payment application requires a depository account, but then begins to function as a broader transaction option overtime.  While it must synch with an existing account from which to draw funds, this would seem just the first step in becoming a dominant player in processing multiple kinds of consumer financial transactions.

My favorite example is Chime which describes itself as the #1 Most Loved Banking App.   The firm’s goal is to be the entry point to a person’s financial institution by making digital banking easy.  It lists some benefits as follows:

Online banking made easy

No minimum balance requirement or monthly service fees

 Manage money 24/7 with the #1 most loved banking app

 Get paid up to two days early with direct deposit

 Deposit checks from anywhere

One of the most enlightening interviews about Chime is from January 2022 in which founder Chris Britt is interviewed by the CEO of Goldman Sachs.

The whole strategy is easily followed in this 17 minute interview.   Listen carefully to how Britt describes his addressable market description (paycheck to paycheck); “we are not a bank”;  how incumbent providers pay attention to only the top 20% of users;  how direct deposit is the pathway to his customers; and designing the firm’s services to match unmet consumer needs.  Listen also to the role of core values.

Chime is a classic example of Christensen’s theory.  There is nothing in this model that credit unions could not do or have not done in the past.   I believe however that many credit unions have moved “up market.” Now firms like Chime are after the market credit unions were originally designed to serve.

Review again this disrupter’s description of financial strategy–a transaction business with a subscription service.   Note his relationship with regulators: Respect the Rules.

This model is what credit unions were designed to be.   Is Chime signaling that  we left our core members and purpose behind?

 

 

 

 

Easter Hope

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSdGW_HBrLE)

A citizen inspects a partially destroyed residential building after Russian shelling in the Saltivka district of Kharkiv on April 9, 2023. A prayer for Ukraine.

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7cPNrpwfs0&list=RDGMEM8h-ASY4B42jYeBhBnqb3-w&start_radio=1&rv=dpEIplVu7Zk