Leading to the release of Inclusiv's upcoming 2020 Juntos Avanzamos e-book, we are sharing stories and insights from member credit unions that go above and beyond in serving their local Hispanic communities. Today, we are featuring Jeff Ivey, President and CEO of River City Credit Union in San Antonio, TX.
Stay tuned for more Juntos Avanzamos updates and information!
Jeff Ivey is the President and CEO of River City Federal Credit Union, a CDFI and Juntos Avanzamos designated credit union based in San Antonio, Texas, serving over 12,000 member-owners with more than $120 million assets. River City is one part of the first Juntos Avanzamos credit union cohort designated by the Cornerstone Credit Union League, the founder of the program. Since their designation, River City has been able to successfully leverage the Juntos framework for financial inclusion, establishing partnerships, offering relevant products and services and becoming an engine of economic growth for Hispanic communities in San Antonio. We recently interviewed Jeff Ivey, President and CEO of River City to learn more about their Hispanic outreach initiatives, with a focus on PPP lending and COVID Relief.
What motivates you to do what you do? What are you most passionate about in your role as CEO of River City and serving Latinos?
My motivation comes from the belief that everyone has a right to safe, affordable financial products, including those that may have made mistakes in the past. Too often, the financial industry uses a “strike one and you’re out” philosophy, which only serves to force people into predatory situations.
San Antonio has a vibrant and growing Latino population. We are the first major city in Texas and many immigrants arrive and ultimately stay here. It’s our job to do all we can to help their transition to living here and understanding how our financial system works. Immigrants that come here in search of a better life are among the bravest people I’ve ever met.
You have been a fierce advocate for credit unions assuming a more assertive role in the development and financial well-being of their communities, transcending traditional roles assigned to financial institutions. Why?
Credit unions were formed to serve their members and their communities. Period. Too often, I think our industry is looking past those in their markets that are struggling and in need, seeking larger markets and growing assets. We are here to serve. If not us, who? Big banks? We have to remember why we were formed and that the philosophy “people before profits” is an important one. Yes, we have to be profitable and financially sound to serve our members and provide them with a return, but we can’t base every strategic decision on maximizing profits.
What does Juntos Avanzamos mean to River City FCU?
It means we are here for everyone, that we have the products and services designed specifically to help those in need, and that by working with our communities, we can help strengthen them financially. Together, we advance-we can’t do it alone. We need to be listening to our members and communities so that our strategic plans are consistent with their needs. Otherwise, we aren’t effectively serving.
And in San Antonio, I think this designation is especially important. It’s more than having bilingual staff. It shows we have the understanding and experience that will make us a valuable partner for our members in the Latino community.
River City has established several programs to help Hispanic and economically vulnerable communities in San Antonio prosper, establishing partnerships with community organizations. Could you talk a bit about them, their impact, and what led you to develop them?
San Antonio is home to a huge number of predatory financial firms. They prey on the financially vulnerable and the underserved. Immigrants arriving here that don’t understand our financial system see these places everywhere and realize that they’re easy to deal with-and don’t realize that their hard-earned money is going to exorbitant fees and obscenely high interest rates. They are also intimidated by mainstream financial providers.
Working with community partners including the Mexican Consulate and the YWCA, we designed a suite of products designed for those who haven’t had accounts in the past and have yet to build credit. These deposit and loan products are designed to bring people into the credit union, save their money by not pay excessive fees or interest, and begin to establish financial stability. A person without a basic checking account can be spending $60-$80 a month in fees and believe that’s how our system works. Education is a huge part of this effort. Breaking generational poverty can start with finding a financial institution willing to take the time and effort to help you understand how things work. We see that as a major responsibility.
How has CDFI certification helped River City expand access to financial services in San Antonio. Why should credit unions work to adopt CDCU and CDFI values?
By our very definition, every credit union should be a CDFI. Community development-that’s a huge part of why we exist. Working with individuals in need, and helping them stabilize their financial picture, is what we should all be striving for. Credit unions could dramatically reduce poverty by helping individual and families buy homes, finance reliable vehicles, and save for their children’s education. We can help provide those opportunities across the country.
Having the certification has helped us develop products and also serves to remind us of why we’re here-to serve our communities, and to focus on their needs. Nonprofit partners have sought us out specifically because we have the CDFI designation-it tells everyone where our priorities lie.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color throughout the United States. San Antonio recently experienced a spike in cases, with the economic consequences it entails. How has the COVID -19 pandemic affected the communities you serve? What role has River City played during this crisis?
River City was an approved SBA lender that had never booked an SBA loan prior to the pandemic. We decided to commit ourselves 100% to the Paycheck Protection Program, because we knew that businesses in financially underserved communities, many of whom are owned by African-Americans, would be left out of this process as the financial industry focused on larger loans. The pandemic continued to show that communities of color are still left behind and struggle to obtain capital. Redlining still exists in our country as banks and some credit unions have abandoned low income areas, leaving them to the predatory shops. That in itself is a stain on our industry.
We processed over 500 PPP loans for $12 million, with an average loan size around $24,000. We helped retain over 1,900 jobs in some of the poorest sections of our city, where job losses would have been devastating.
How was the transition from a much larger credit union serving a very different FOM? Pros and cons?
The transition was not difficult. For me, there were no cons-only positives. Unfortunately, some larger credit unions operate more like banks, focusing squarely on ROA and other financial ratios that members frankly don’t understand or care about. As I said before, we have to be successful to be a financially sound institution and to provide a solid return for our members, but that has to be balanced by our mission of serving those that are financially vulnerable. Being at a smaller credit union has given me the opportunity to put into action strategies and causes that are important to me, that are designed to truly help those in need.
We don’t want to be the biggest credit union in San Antonio. That’s not our goal. We want to have the biggest impact for our members, period. We want the reputation as being the credit union that is truly for everyone. Inclusion for all-everyone has a basic right to safe and affordable financial products. That’s not just something a tweet or a social media post would mention-we truly believe that, and seek to live up to being diverse, equitable, and inclusive for everyone in our community.