Low-Income Outreach Back On The Front Burner

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Florida Central CU is resolved to put its visionary "store front" facility back on the front burner this year, after being distracted from the project by Sept. 11 and other events.

The idea: offer check-cashing and other "non-traditional" financial services to low-income communities at credit union-like prices in a retail, store front facility. In order to reach out to more people, Florida Central was going to offer these services through a CUSO so it could serve members and non-members alike.

Why it got off track: after having selected a site for the facility, the credit union had to give up on the location when a bank came in and bought it. The events of Sept. 11 and the aftermatch then distracted the CU from its goal.

"We know it's a good idea, and we still want to do it. We got a little distracted this year," said Florida Central's CEO Ed Gallagly, who noted that part of the problem wasn't just that the credit union got distracted-so did the community groups and organizations that had been supporting the plan. "We need to try to get support again from the community, the city, and our partner, the Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan. This was a priority for us, and then it slipped."

After the setback created by the bank's purchase of the site, the credit union decided to start offering check-cashing and other related services at its inner-city branch.

"We've gotten a lot of new members that way. We'll waive the $5 entry fee so they can join," Gallagly explained. "These people will come in asking for half a dozen money orders so they can pay their bills, and we show them how they can save a lot of money just by opening a checking account. Then we try to get them saving, which is tough if they don't do direct deposit, and so many of them are leery about that. So we try to do a lot of payroll deduction instead, and then when they come in to make a withdrawal from their savings, we encourage them to take out a loan against their savings instead."

But that's not the only way the the credit union is finding new members-they're also uncovering whole new select employee groups.

"When people come in and ask us to cash their paychecks, we look to see where those paychecks are coming from. It's become a source of new SEGs for us," he added.

With such benefits for members, community and credit union alike, Gallagly wants to get the planning and implementation of the long-awaited store front project back on track this year.

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