Summit Seeks To Provide Direction In Serving Native-American Members

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In a nationwide effort to help credit unions reach some of the most impoverished people in the U.S., the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) organized a summit to identify best practices to serve Native Americans.

The goal is to provide access to a white paper on this topic, as well as a variety of online resources and model programs for CU seeking to serve Native-Americans.

According to the latest census, two-million Native Americans live in the U.S., and they continue to be among the most impoverished people. Few Native-American communities can attract or sustain depository institutions, and those Native-Americans living in urban areas are also among the most underserved by insured financial institutions, the NCUF said.

What drove the creation of this summit was the dilemma faced by Bill Myers, CEO of Alternatives FCU in Ithaca, N.Y., who sought to reach out to a nearby tribe, but could find no model programs for serving this population.

NCUF first conducted a national survey of credit unions with Native Americans in their fields of membership, then invited representatives from 15 leading credit unions to attend the summit, with Oklahoma CUL CEO Lisa Finley, whose home state has the largest Native American population, serving as facilitator.

Among the findings of NCUF's survey:

* Most institutions offer the same products to both Native-Americans and non-Native Americans.

* CUs want to provide Natives Americans with financial education, home mortgage loans, and alternatives to payday loans.

* The biggest obstacle to serving Native-Americans is working within the tribal court system, which often results in difficulties securing collateral. (c) 2006 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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