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New CU to help underserved open within 18 months
SAN FRANCISCO (11/20/12)--People's Reserve CU in San Francisco, which registered in California one year ago, is about a year to 18 months away from coming to fruition as a credit union.

"Our mission is to help the underserved--as well as our working-class and middle-income San Franciscans--by providing them with opportunity to create a community development credit union that is state-based," Brian McKeown, business development officer and one of the founders of People's Reserve, told News Now.

Two life experiences helped create the impetus for People's Reserve, McKeown said.

"I studied microfinance at Grameen Bank in Bangladesh in 2008 to 2009," he explained. "It has projects in 140 countries worldwide, and it makes loans to poor women to start businesses. It's really amazing. I was just in awe of the way it was run and its impact on communities and women's lives and people in general."

The other factor is that McKeown was a small business owner, an entrepreneur for most of his adult life. "I was dealing with the one-percenters, and the Occupy Movement came on the scene, so I joined that movement in San Francisco, along with other people who were mad at being 'rolled' by big financial institutions. We decided we needed to start something."

Currently, the credit union is in the fundraising mode, which began last month. "We haven't submitted yet [for a credit union charter to the California Department of Financial Institutions or the National Credit Union Administration]," McKeown said. "We're just concentrating on raising money before we file.

"I've talked with other credit union CEOs and we're definitely ahead of the game," he added. "The biggest challenge is raising money because we can't promise a return. A lot of people don't understand a credit union and--how it will help them. It is hard to get general donations, and there are not a lot of foundations for this."

So far, some board management is in place for People's Reserve, surveying in the community is being conducted and the credit union is aligning with some nonprofit groups. "We have a pretty strong board," McKeown said.

The credit union is sending some staff to City College of San Francisco to learn about the fashion and clothing industry, McKeown said. People's Reserve is looking to help people in the clothing industry get started--not necessarily through owning stores, but rather by making the clothes.

"People here will spend money to buy locally produced goods through existing stores, outlets and co-ops," he added.

The credit union plans to offer microloans of $5,000 or less to working poor and homeless people, subsidize student loans at low interest rates and cultivate community projects. 

One of those projects is to finance a local food co-op that serves neighborhoods.

"We're working with other groups on how to actually do that," McKeown said. "The 'slow food' movement has been picking up over the past few years. I am not a fan of 'Franken-food.' People need an alternative to prevent obesity and diabetes. Food co-ops work well with other nonprofits. And lots of people want to see them and will help us."

People's Reserve is working with local co-ops and an organization called the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE).

"We're looking to see what the local small businesses' needs are and what we can do to meet them," McKeown explained. "Getting to know businesses helps you stand apart from the competition.

"The key is surveying--talking to businesses and getting to know them and their needs," he concluded.
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