California CU Importing Service Strategy From Mexico

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VENTURA, Calif.-A technology model developed to serve members in Mexico is heading north and will be piloted by a California credit union as a way to reach out to the unbanked and underbanked.

Ventura County Credit Union has partnered with the World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) to test a system that uses mobile phones, hand-held printers and point-of-service devices to bring financial services to agricultural works in fields and production facilities in Ventura County. Most of those workers are unbanked, and use either a payday lender or an unlicensed individual who stops by on payday and cashes their checks for a hefty fee.

VCCU CEO Joe Schroeder said there are an estimated 40,000 such workers in the county. They are not illegal aliens, said Schroeder, but are immigrants with little history or experience in dealing with financial institutions. Anyone without an ID will be unable to join the credit union and participate.

The program will initially be piloted with Boskovich Farms, which farms more than 10,000 acres in California and Mexico. Schroeder said Boskovich has been enthusiastic about participating, as have other growers in the county.

Schroeder said two focus groups found many of the workers would like to have a financial institution relationship, but have unable to travel to a bank or credit union due to a lack of transportation or, where they have transportation, reluctant to do so because they are often dirty after a day's work. The situation is similar to that in Mexico where credit unions have pioneered using cell phones and other devices to bring the CU to potential and current members.

"We want to give them a chance," said Schroeder. "We want to do what's right. We want to help the workers build relationships in the community based on trust."

While the initial effort will focus on cashing checks, Schroeder said longer-term the credit union wants to offer financial literacy courses, debit cards and other services to the workers.

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