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Southwest 66 CU Makes Giving Back to Members; Community a Top Priority
Thursday, February 13, 2014 6:45 AM

Southwest 66 CU, a Juntos Avanzamos credit union, has been selected as one of 12 U.S. credit unions to participate in the Filene Research Institute’s “Borrow and Save” Incubator. Funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation, “Borrow and Save” is one of four products to be tested. Borrow and Save was developed to increase the economic security of low- and moderate-income credit union members by providing a small dollar loan product with a built-in savings component that can help break the cycle of high-cost, repeat borrowing.

“We first learned that Filene was looking for credit unions to test the product through the Cornerstone Credit Union League’s electronic newsletter, the Leaguer,” recalls Southwest 66 CU CEO Sean Cahill. “We followed up on it, and are so honored to have been selected to participate.”

Southwest 66 CU is a low-income designated credit union, and in October 2013, the Odessa-based credit union received Cornerstone’s Juntos Avanzamos, or Together We Advance designation, which is only given to those credit unions that have the infrastructure and demonstrate the capacity for meeting the financial services needs of Hispanic families. 

“Our board has made giving back to our members and the community a number one priority,” says Cahill. “And one way we are able to give back is to provide the products and services that help lift families out of difficult financial situations and on the path toward greater financial stability.”

Payday loans reportedly costs consumers billions in fees every year, and that simply isn’t acceptable to Cahill.

“People helping people isn’t just a motto, it’s something we [credit unions] deliver on every single day. And at Southwest 66 CU we start everyday asking ourselves how do we do a little more today than we did yesterday,” says Cahill. “Predatory lending is a debt trap and as credit unions, we need to do everything we can to help.”

According to Cahill, the short-term loan product that the credit union will be testing as a part of Filene’s “Borrow and Save” incubator, has a built-in savings component.

“People who take out payday loans aren’t borrowing to fund a vacation. They’re borrowing to make ends meet. But if they had an emergency savings account to fall back, maybe they wouldn’t need to take out that payday loan,” notes Cahill. “It’s so difficult to break the cycle, but it is my hope that by participating in this incubator we will be able to effect change in people’s savings habits.” 

In addition to participating in Filene’s “Save and Borrow” Incubator, Southwest 66 CU is also participating in the Internal Revenue Services’ (IRS) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) initiative. The VITA program offers free tax help to low- to moderate-income individuals who cannot prepare their own tax returns. According to Cahill, 17 Southwest 66 CU employees are giving up five Saturdays each to volunteer at the credit union’s VITA site. All 17 went through the appropriate training to volunteer.

“Our staff has a real passion for helping people,” boasts Cahill. “We have a wonderful culture of giving at Southwest 66 CU, and I give a lot of credit to our board – they lead by example.”

When it came down to applying for Cornerstone’s Juntos Avanzamos designation, Cahill says the board was engaged throughout the entire process.

“Our board not only recognized how important the Hispanic demographic is to our future growth, but they understand how critical it is for families to have that relationship with a financial institution in order to achieve greater financial security,” adds Cahill.

Cahill says they are fully leveraging the Juntos Avanzamos designation. The credit union flies a Juntos Avanzamos flag; they display the designation in brochures and banners, as well as on its website. Juntos Avanzamos, he says, is really starting to resonate with the Hispanic community.

The credit union is getting ready to launch a Quinceañera loan and a citizenship loan. Cahill says their objective in the creation of the citizenship loan goes beyond merely providing money for the citizenship application.

“Our goal is to create a true partnership with our members,” he says.

The credit union’s citizenship loan will help members cover the cost of legal assistance, the citizenship application, biometrics, interview and testing and the citizenship ceremony. The credit union even offers a loan so that the member can buy a suit for the citizenship ceremony.

The credit union also offers an affinity card program, partnering with local schools and churches. As a way of saying thank you, the Southwest 66 CU provides a quarterly monetary give back to these partnering organizations.

Additionally, the credit union is currently working on developing a micro website that will be in Spanish. And about two weeks ago, the credit union launched shared branching. According to Cahill, more than 20 non-members took advantage of the service within the first two days.  

“We’re very blessed in that we are a financially safe and secure financial institution, and we will continually explore opportunities to do more for members and community,” assures Cahill.


Helpful links:

Juntos Avanzamos

Shared branching