Small CU Shares Grant-Winning Strategies; MTW Ad Gets A Black Eye

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Most credit union leaders know not to take anything for granted. Not Antonio Pizano, CEO of Pacoima Development FCU in Southern California. Indeed, it's been grants that have helped his seven-year-old CU grow to $4 million in assets and to continue to expand service offerings at the same time many other start-ups have struggled or simply given up and opted to be merged.

In an understatement, Pizano observed, "Trying to open up a brand new credit union in a low-income community during a bad recession has proven to be a huge challenge for us. One thing that has helped us to really survive and have some level of marketing has been the support of grant income. It has helped to keep us afloat. Without it, I don't think we'd be where we are today."

Sharing his advice with small CUs that are a part of the California and Nevada leagues' Shapiro Group, Pizano, in remarks to a recent California/Nevada league meeting, said his CU has sought to apply for every grant that it could to ensure PDFCU doesn't join the long list of start-ups that have come to a stop. To that end it has applied for multiple small-dollar grants from the Shapiro Group itself, has applied for technology grants, and for the "Just Ask Grants." It used the latter to attend the league conference and CUNA's GAC.


Opening Doors

"The other grants available that (CUs) may not know about are NCUA grants," reminded Pizano. "We are a low-income credit union, primarily because of where we are located, but we are also a CDFI. That opens many more doors, more than you might think. It gave us the ability to generate non-member deposits; it's extremely difficult for us to raise deposits. It has allowed us to reach out to more folks. We can improve liquidity and offer more services to our members. One-third of the credit unions eligible for LICU status have yet to apply."

Pizano said Pacoima Development has also used grants to provide a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, using the funds to pay for the giveaways offered to volunteers. "This past year we helped out just more than 500 folks who got more than $1 million in refunds," he said. "We also added 27 new members. We would have done better, but we don't have a checking account product. But in our latest grant of $91,000 we plan to use it to add a checking account. We inject that directly into capital, which shot up our net worth to nearly 11%. Now we have some room to play with."

Pizano urged credit unions looking for more information on grants to CDFIs to visit

Overall, said Pizano, PDFCU has been able to use grants to help it hire additional staff, launch a CUSO, implement a home equity line and payday loan products, to build its loan-loss reserves, and more. It has hired someone to help it apply for grants, most recently paying that person $1,500 on a contingency basis.


* I don't think this is what one credit union had in mind when it signed a local athlete to act as spokesperson.

MTW Community Credit Union in Lowell, Mass. was airing a video featuring the Boston Bruins' Milan Lucic in an ad called "Milan Lucic Breaks Up With His Bank." In the ad Lucic is upset with an ATM fee from "ACME U.S. Bank," with video in the ad showing an ATM screen displaying a $5 transaction fee (and as more than one Internet review noted, there is no "decline" option on the screen shown, proving ACME may be onto something). As a result, Lucic moves to a credit union.


Three Thumbs Down

Now, the reviews are in. CNN/Sports Illustrated's website called it "possibly the worst commercial you've ever seen." Yahoo said the spot was "an awful, awful commercial," and added that Lucic's performance was "pretty much the acting equivalent of Ryan Miller getting run over by a felonious forechecker: Raw, brutal and somewhat hilarious." And in what might be a slight overstatement, called it "possibly the worst commercial in the history of time."

The declining cost of technology needed to film and edit videos has made it possible for many more credit unions to create their own commercials. That has led, in some cases, to some terrific and creative work. But in other cases, well, not so much. And YouTube means the worst spots can be spread and ridiculed far beyond the local market.

We all regularly receive e-mails from someone with a link to a video and a message that reads, "Watch this...if you can." If you want to avoid being included in such e-mails, always remember that just because we now can do something doesn't mean we should.

As for the MTW Community spot, I'd point you to a YouTube link, but is has since been taken down.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at

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