“Social responsibility isn’t just a buzz word for us, it’s a strategy,” says Patrick Adams, president and CEO of St. Louis Community Credit Union (SLCCU), a full-service nonprofit financial institution serving the St. Louis region’s low-to-moderate income (LMI) community. “There are people who don’t have a lot of options available when it comes to building and maintaining financial security, and we want to do our part to make things a little bit easier by promoting value and economic empowerment.”
Founded in 1942 as the St. Louis Teachers Credit Union, SLCCU has evolved over the years. Despite changes, it has stayed committed to its original mission of helping people in need obtain financial relief. Today, the credit union offers second-chance checking products, reloadable debit cards, credit-building services, and payday loan alternatives, in an effort to help break the predatory lending cycle for consumers. “We provide affordable financial services to people who currently find themselves on the ‘fringe’ of the mainstream banking world,” explains Dorothy Bell, vice president of public relations and community affairs. “Our long-term expectation is that ROI will accompany these consumer-friendly initiatives.”
Often deceived by lenders and creditors pushing loans and credit cards with nothing but sky-high interest, St. Louis residents with low income and poor credit are happy to find real financial solutions with SLCCU. “We have chosen to maintain branches in areas that are rife with predatory lenders and check cashers,” Bell says. “Our Dellwood Branch is located in a strip mall between two such vendors. Additionally, our Southtown Branch is just up the street from several payday lenders. Our products and locations are providing low-income populations with true savings and the convenience of mainstream banking.”
Although SLCCU doesn’t seek recognition for helping those in need, the organization’s efforts are not going unnoticed: In 2009, the credit union received the Community Development Financial Institution designation from the US Department of Treasury, and also earned a national Excellence In Lending Award sponsored by the Credit Union National Association. In 2010, SLCCU was named one of the top Community Credit Unions of the Year by the Credit Union National Association.
In 2011, the Olin Business School at Washington University conducted a study that determined SLCCU has an annual economic impact of nearly $20 million on the St. Louis area when compared to banks, payday lenders, and/or check-cashing institutions. “This figure focuses on the overall long-term sustainability of the organization, which includes the absolute value of having a banking relationship with the credit union, as well as its social influence,” says Michael O’Brien, senior vice president and chief marketing officer.
Affordable banking is just one way SLCCU helps its members. The credit union has also been offering free financial-education classes and seminars to the public since 2008. “In working with our social-service and community partners, we saw a need for financial education as a means for individuals to make better-informed decisions when managing money,” Bell says. “We have a full-time financial educator/community-outreach specialist on staff who teaches a variety of courses to promote financial empowerment, from effective budgeting to managing credit wisely.”
After creating a track record of improving financial literacy throughout St. Louis for several years, the credit union’s board of directors established the SLCCU Foundation in 2010 to further fund the credit union’s financial-education offerings and community initiatives, in addition to a scholarship for nontraditional students.
Throughout its education and outreach efforts, SLCCU reminds people that having a low income or being less experienced with financial management is nothing to be ashamed of, and is not always a disadvantage. “People may feel that they can’t get ahead financially because they may not have learned the necessary skills at a young age,” Bell says. “The truth is, with proper planning, they may be in a better position to manage their finances.”
As SLCCU enhances its products and services and creates new goals for the future, its main priority remains helping people to get out of debt and to successfully manage their finances. “Our members are extremely loyal because they appreciate the fact that we were there for them when they needed us most,” O’Brien says. “They trust us, and we’ve built our brand on providing value to the LMI community.”