SALEM, Ore. (9/5/13)--Maps CU's path to community development financial institution certification indirectly began when it changed to a community charter in 2009. At that time, the credit union sought to create a membership that truly reflected the makeup of its community, Jill Nowacki, the credit union's vice president of development told News Now.
"We made an effort to serve our entire community," Nowacki said. "Stemming from that we saw that the work we were doing positioned us as a true community development financial institution."
Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) certification is a designation given by the U.S. Treasury to entities that primarily serve low- to moderate-income members, or have a primary mission of community development.
Maps CU, based in Salem, Ore., with $470 million in assets, partnered with CDFI certification and grant writing firm CU Strategic Planning through the CDFI application process, which included documentation, target market analysis and narrative of the credit union's community development efforts.
But before it formally applied for CDFI certification, Maps CU established its identity within its community. The credit union partnered with two community development corporations to provide financial education to underserved population segments.
"The partnerships enabled us to offer financial education, which is an area in which we are strong, rather than just going out and marketing to underserved markets," said Nowacki.
Similarly, the credit union partnered with a local literacy center to provide education.
"We actually hesitated because we wanted to build trust and talk about the value of having a financial account, but we didn't want to simply say that account should be at Maps. But the literacy center asked us if we would do account opening because oftentimes the biggest obstacle to opening an account can be transportation to the financial institution or the hours of operation," Nowacki added.
In defining its underserved market, Maps CU discovered some surprises.
"I don't think we picture youth or young adults as being underserved, but often they are," Nowacki said. "They have limited credit history. They often have lots of student debt and limited income. It's not easy being a college graduate in this economy."
For those reasons, the Maps CU's Credit Builder Loan, originally conceptualized primarily for the Hispanic market is also a hit with Gen Y, Nowacki said.
The credit union also serves the youth market with three high school student branches and three elementary school savings clubs.
The credit union even extended its reach to a local correctional facility. Maps CU supports a college program at Mill Creek Correctional Facility. The credit union provides students with eight hours of financial education, financial management books and offers two $500 scholarships to program participants who are being released with one year and aspire to continue their education.
With its CDFI designation, Maps hopes to gain access to financial assistance to bring more services to its underserved community. The credit union is waiting on approval a grant request that would help it fund a lending program to provide affordable car loans to working families.
"We are hoping to put in place a program that enables us to expand lending to people who are having trouble accessing affordable credit for transportation," Nowacki said. "The reason why it is critical in our community is because we have a very limited public transportation system, with limited hours and services.
"Providing a family with a car can literally change their lives," she adds.
Having the ability to make that kind of difference has been the result of a long journey for Maps CU, said Nowacki. "When we first thought about serving our community, we thought we had all the financial services anybody would want and we could just print our marking materials in Spanish, but it's much more than that.
"We took the time to know our community partners and identify everyone's needs. It's a lesson in patience, but more importantly, it's a lesson in how much more effective you can be if you stop and learn about the community you serve."
This article is part of a News Now series of exclusive, special reports on credit unions' outreach efforts and innovative ideas. Fostering service excellence, removing barriers and raising awareness about the value credit unions provide their members and communities are the foundation for the Credit Union National Association's, state credit union leagues' and credit unions' Unite For Good campaign toward a vision in which Americans choose credit unions as their best financial provider.