Crossing the Line to Fight the Good Fight

CU collaborates with local bank for good of the community.

October 01, 2013
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When you think of somebody willing to cross a line in the sand, Patrick Adams should immediately come to mind

In 2012, the CEO of St. Louis Community Credit Union defied a traditional boundary to begin a four-year collaboration with a bank.

His reason? The need to bring all the power he could muster to reach a dramatically underserved community.

“The problems in St. Louis are bigger than any rivalry between banks and credit unions,” says Adams, noting the city has the nation’s third most underserved African-American population.

Eighty-five percent of the credit union’s members are low-to-moderate income, and 80% are African-American.

“We’re one of the largest CDFIs [community development ¬financial institutions] in the city, and a bank could use us to satisfy its community reinvestment needs,” he explains. “When I ran into an old friend and asked what he was up to, he said he was working for Carrollton Bank. I told him that if his bank needed to use CRA [Community Reinvestment Act] dollars, our credit union was the one to go through. Shortly after that, I got a phone call.”

It took about a year to set up the collaboration. “There were no problems at the local level, but we guess it took a while to get the FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.] to fully understand—the approach was so novel. A big help to getting this done was the commitment of the bank’s president to serving the market. He really understands the need.”

Adams’ biggest target is payday lenders. “Missouri has the second-largest concentration of payday lenders in the U.S. They flock here and prey on the disadvantaged because there’s very little industry regulation.”

The arrangement with Carrollton Bank involves $800,000 to help with operations, including financial education, marketing, and branch space. “We funded a branch with them, and have 10 other offices as well.”

In an in-your-face show of taking the fight to the foe, Adams placed one of the branches in a strip mall directly between two payday lenders.

“We wanted to go after them. I’m a credit union veteran who has taken the credit union movement’s mission seriously for years. If credit unions drift away from their original mission, it’s not good. So we decided to find an economically disadvantaged community and own it.

“We could have gone to the suburbs and battled for deposits, and become a ‘me too’ institution in the process, but that wasn’t for us.”

Adams starts his work day early—usually arriving at his desk by 6:20 a.m. “I have a great staff. Our motto is ‘passion over paycheck,’ meaning we want people who are in this for the good they can do, not just the money they make.”

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