Movement for LGBTQ Credit Union Accelerating

Equality Credit Union is more than an attempt to start a new Washington credit union to serve the LGBTQ community, says Phillip Endicott, the group’s founder and president. What they are attempting to do, he said, is “a credit union reinvention, or reimagination.”

Not only do they intend to create the nation’s first financial institution focused on the values and needs of the LGBTQ community, they are investigating an experimental mode of startup that Endicott calls incubation.

Endicott, the director of user experience at a mid-sized tech firm, has spent 30 years working with non-profits — founding several of them — primarily in the LGBTQ community.

These non-profits serve the community’s health and legal needs, among others, but Endicott found it difficult to get funding. “I became aware in attempts to raise funds that we were struggling,” said Endicott.

He had trouble getting loans from institutions, and there was tremendous competition for the “tiny little grants” that were available.

Endicott also saw the lasting financial impact of HIV/AIDS. “The HIV epidemic had such a negative impact,” he said. “People who thought they would not live to retire are finding they don’t have financial means to retire.”

With the board members of one of the non-profits he worked with, Endicott started floating the idea of pooling community resources to accomplish community goals.

Then, during the 2008 financial crisis, Endicott “became keenly aware of credit unions.” Previously he had found them indistinguishable from banks, but looking at the history of credit unions he realized that it was “a truly cooperative movement.”

“I responded very positively to what a credit union used to be, not necessarily what a credit union has become, which is, in my opinion, a bank,” said Endicott.

Credit unions began by serving particular communities, he explained. Back when people often spent decades working for one company or living in one neighborhood, it made sense to create credit unions to serve the unique needs of those communities.

“People move through their lives and careers much more fluidly now,” said Endicott. “Financial institutions have to adapt.”

“The LGBT community has been brought together because of the difficult movement towards civil rights and human rights, and the struggle with HIV and AIDS,” he said. “They’ve made us pull together as a community, like no other community.”

This deep well of common interest is what Endicott sees as the perfect seed for a new credit union, one that would serve the interests of the LGBTQ community and their allies. Not only would Equality Credit Union serve the financial needs of its members, it would also give them a voice in the legislative and regulatory conversation around financial institutions.

“If you don’t have a place at the table,” Endicott quoted the old advocacy saying, “you’re probably on the menu.”

He and his team have met with a number of credit union leaders in the Northwest, including Sarah Bang, chief strategy officer for shared branching at CO-OP financial services.

“The Equality CU folks are committed and passionate about the very things that credit unions provide their members every day,” Bang said, “respectful, fair treatment in the delivery of financial services with the ability to be more than just a customer. I am encouraging them to work with a credit union or credit unions, because our values are in sync with what they want to achieve. Everyone wins.”

Endicott and his team have looked at several modes of starting up a credit union, including chartering a new one from scratch and taking over an existing credit union’s charter.

Currently they are pursuing a third route, which Endicott calls incubation. In this model a larger, established credit union would take the startup under its wing and provide critical expertise and technology, while allowing the startup a high degree of autonomy to serve its community.

This model is so new as to be experimental, but Endicott has been talking to several credit union leaders who have accomplished something similar.

Linda Jekel, director of the credit union division at the Washington Department of Financial Institutions, said that, though things are still in very preliminary stages, she sees good potential for the Equality Credit Union team.

“There’s a common bond there,” Jekel said of Equality Credit Union’s proposed field of membership. “My guess is there’s a need for financial services that understand this community. It looks viable.”

Endicott has no doubt. He is currently focused on fundraising and assembling directors and advisors who have the experience, energy, and time to see Equality Credit Union through to fruition.

“We are going to succeed,” he said. “We are going to open a credit union one way or another. It’s going to be all of our responsibility to change things so that this community is supported.”

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

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