The NWCUF is Seeking Innovative Approaches to Serving the Region’s Rural Communities

The Northwest is home to hundreds of rural communities, each with their own evolving economies and diverse demographics. When faced with change, they are resilient and innovative. Credit unions serve as community partners, offering the financial services, products, and solutions that best fit their unique needs.

To assist with this important work, the Northwest Credit Union Foundation has launched the Rural Access to Financial Services Initiative, which will help credit unions explore their communities’ challenges and assist in developing programs, products, and services aimed at increasing access and affordability to financial services across rural areas.

Those programs could focus on any number of areas or demographics, such as rural college students or childcare providers in need of financial assistance; energy, small business, or entrepreneur loans; the refinancing or selling of reliable commuter vehicles; or rural cooperative loans, such as those for housing or land trusts.

Planning grants of up to $15,000 will assist in identifying a local need or challenge faced by residents in rural communities and develop an action plan to pilot a solution to address that need. Plans should be specifically designed to identify and address the unique challenge faced by a community and be broadly accepted by local stakeholders.

“In rural communities, accessing safe and affordable financial products is a growing priority among residents,” said Sharee Adkins, NWCUF Executive Director. “In addition, these areas are seeing an uptick in growth, especially as people continue to relocate now that they can work from home. Credit unions are meeting those challenges head-on by reimagining how they serve their rural communities.”

In Eastern Oregon, Old West Federal Credit Union is deeply connected to the eight rural counties it serves. Headquartered in John Day, the credit union provides financial services to 13,000 members in Morrow, Umatilla, Union, Wallowa, Wheeler, Grant, Baker, and Harney counties. The counties span in population size from 1,400 to just over 77,000.

Financial education is a key priority for the credit union, said Ken Olson, Old West Federal Credit Union’s President and CEO. Ensuring that members have the resources they need to “make an education decision,” is critical, and it’s the credit union’s responsibility to be their guide, Olson stressed.

Another key focus for Old West Federal is building an infrastructure that provides more Eastern Oregon residents with access to the financial services they need.

“My one (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal) is to get a credit union presence into every little town in Eastern Oregon, even if it’s an ITM. Banks have been pulling out [of Eastern Oregon] for years now and there are towns with literally no [financial institution] presence,” Olson said.

Priorities like those are essential in increasing financial services access to rural residents, Adkins said.

“It is the Foundation’s goal to support credit unions in identifying these opportunities. With their strong community connections and dedication to meeting members’ needs, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington’s credit unions are the ideal financial partners to overcome the challenges rural communities face,” Adkins said. “Each community is different, so there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution.”

More information about the Rural Access to Financial Services Initiative and the available planning grant opportunities may be found online. Grant applications are due by March 26. To receive early feedback, please submit applications by Feb. 26.

Questions may be directed to Claire Hendrix, NWCUF Program Director.

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