Cousminer Wins Individual Wegner Award

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Bethex FCU CEO Joy Cousminer has been selected by the National CU Foundation as the winner of the Herb Wegner Memorial Award for Individual Achievement.

"At the ripe young age of 79, Joy continues to shame me and others who cannot seem to match her vigor, her energy, or her passion," related Kelly Schermerhorn, VP of CES Credit Union in Mount Vernon, Ohio, who nominated Cousminer for the Wegner Award. "Joy's unique power to persuade anybody and everybody to do something to aid in her endeavor to provide affordable financial services separates her as a leader of leaders."

Cousminer started Bethex Federal Credit Union in 1970 in her apartment. "While helping single mothers on welfare obtain GEDs, a common theme quickly became apparent: a lack of access to credit and a place to build savings," Cousminer related.

Thirty-five years and 13 mergers later, the credit union's low-income membership base has expanded throughout areas of New York City where "a severe shortage of banks complicates residents' ability to dig out of poverty."

To reach these underserved communities, Cousminer forged a ground-breaking partnership with check-cashing operations offering more than 100 outlets open 24/7. The check-cashers agreed to allow members to cash checks for just $1.50 if members deposit 20% of the cashed amount into the credit union through a free on-site terminal. "This successful partnership meshes the reality of low-income urban areas with the bridge that Bethex provides to the financial mainstream," Cousminer observed. "Even more important than the convenience, members are encouraged to build savings."

Most recently, Cousminer forged a first-of-its-kind partnership with three local firms offering international remittances.

"These firms were recently forced to close their bank accounts, and would be completely out of business without a financial institution such as Bethex to house their accounts," Cousminer explained. "We believe that banks having a monopoly over international remittance services in the Bronx would not be good for our immigrant and low-income populations."

So Bethex became the first credit union to serve as the account holder for Mateo Express, Remesas Pujols, and Caribbean Airmail. "Not only does this enable more remittance firms to operate, which means lower prices for consumers," Cousminer affirmed. "This also provides a new source of income for our credit union-which can fund some of our services to empower low-income members and bring them into the financial mainstream."

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