Chicago CU Piloting Partnership With Community Center; May Expand

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CHICAGO — North Side Community Federal Credit Union (NSCFCU) has entered into a joint venture with the Howard Area Community Center (HACC) in Chicago's low-income Rogers Park neighborhood.

Should the partnership work out, the credit union said it will look to replicate it with other, similar groups.

Membership will now be open to any of HACC's clients and employees-as well as anyone else in the community. North Side Community FCU CEO Jennifer Sierecki said that the alignment was as much about expanding the CU's geographic reach as it was about potentially expanding its member base and providing banking services to the community center's members.

The two groups have worked together for about 15 years, and HACC is a select employer group for the CU. NSCFCU has more than 3,000 members and $10.5-million in assets.

The credit union's HACC branch will be open for two hours every Thursday, but Sierecki said that NSCFCU will be assessing demand to see if expanded hours are necessary, as well as whether or not this type of partnership can be replicated with other non-profit partners in the area.

"The main purpose of setting up this partnership and launching the satellite branch," said Sierecki, "is to let people know that we're out here, we're in the community, and we're going to meet them where they are. Hopefully this will lead to people being able to save, to access financial products and to take them away from predatory financial service providers that are prevalent in Rogers Park."

The neighborhood contains regions of high poverty, with many having low levels of education and employment. More than 21% of all households in the area report annual incomes of less than $15,000.

The HACC partnership also includes a large financial-education component, as the credit union is a low-income designated Community Development Financial Institution. Sierecki noted that, for example, if a member comes in requesting a pay-day alternative loan and has a credit score under 600, that member is required to go through a session about credit and budgeting as part of the loan process. Organizers also hope to offer financial education on-site beyond the hours the branch is open, both for members and for the general public.

Sierecki said that it will be difficult to quantify and measure the definition of the success of this partnership for some time, "but, to be honest, being at the satellite site and just having that presence and providing that access, I think is successful for us right now," she said. "As we grow, we're not expecting to do $5,000 of loans-it took us eight years to get to that point. But I would say that if 25% of the new members take out loans, that's successful for us."

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