Houston CU Offering Check-Cashing Service On Wheels In Some Markets

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Houston Postal Credit Union has created a check-cashing service on wheels in an effort to reach potential members from the city's underserved Hispanic areas.

"We converted a Chevrolet cargo van into a mobile branch," said Lupe Mendoza, executive assistant at HPCU, explaining that it includes bullet-resistant glass, a safe and a removable magnetic sign that advertises its services.

The success of the mobile check-cashing van has led HPCU to open a fixed check-cashing location in a highly populated Hispanic neighborhood so it could better serve Houston's growing immigrant population, she said. While that office only provides check-cashing services, Mendoza said, CU officials hope to expand it to include license tag renewal and utility payments services.

According to the U.S. Census, 37.4% of Houston's nearly two-million residents are Hispanic.

The goal of the mobile unit is to provide check-cashing services to the city's workers who might otherwise become prey to expensive check cashing businesses. HPCU charges a fee of 1% of the check amount per check. Mendoza said a brief survey of other outlets prior to the roll out of the mobile unit showed that other like businesses in the Houston area charge anywhere from 1% to 5%, depending on the amount and type of check being cashed.

Mendoza said the unit makes frequent trips to hotels, auto dealerships, refineries and construction companies.

"It's driven to various locations and business on set days and times, depending on when that particular place hands out checks," she said. Since taking to the road last September, the branch has been quite profitable.

While the program has not attracted new accounts, Vladimir Stark, CEO of HPCU, said he's confident that it will be successful in converting customers to members.

"We believe first we need to gain their trust, and then we can introduce them to other services that would help them achieve their financial objectives," he said. "I do see mobile branches as an effective way in which to serve this particular segment of the population."

Because of this particular population's limited knowledge of the financial industry and limited credit, it'll take longer to build a good working relationship, he said.

Board chairman Ceaser Moore said the success of the CU is a byproduct of meeting the needs of the community, including those who are otherwise underserved.

"Credit unions have to be member-needs focused," he said. "Our mission is to invest in people to improve lives."

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