Digital-only not an option when serving the under-served
By John San Filippo
The concept for Nirvana, a de novo credit union that is still in the research and development stage, sprung from conversations between industry veterans Ari Farrell and Dan Marques (a.k.a., Madam Nymphadora, CUDE). Said Marquez, “We started ideating and asked ourselves, what could a financial cooperative look like for folks who have faced barriers in the financial services sector?”
According to Farrell, despite best intentions, members of the LGBTQ+ community still face unconscious bias in branch interactions. “You may present in a way that some people are not comfortable with,” said Farrell. Some transactions like name changes may seem particularly awkward because of this unconscious bias.
Marquez recounted the story of a couple who came in with their middle schooler to change the name on their child’s account. “We need the statements that come to our home to reflect who our child really is,” the parents told the member service rep.
“The first thing we had to decide is who we really want to serve,” said Marquez. Although not limited to these groups, Marquez said Nirvana will put particular focus on drag entertainers, sex workers, those affected by HIV/AIDS, “queer-owned small businesses,” LGBTQ+ resource agencies and healthcare agencies. Marquez and Farrell have been in contact with a number of advocacy groups, including the Sex Workers Outreach Project and Drag Out the Vote.
In terms of technology, Marquez and Farrell are carefully considering the people they seek to serve. “We had to consider whether we want to be digital only or have a physical presence, too,” said Farrell. “In the end, we realized that physical locations are needed because some people can’t use technology in the same way others can.”
Marquez, for example, stated that homelessness is a serious problem in the LGBTQ+ community. “When a kid gets kicked out of the house by their parents and ends up homeless, they’re not going to have the same access to technology as most people,” they said. “We want to be able to reach those people, too.”
As for what a physical presence might look like, Farrell said that could take many forms. “We could have a part-time employee at a sponsor site or even just an ITM (interactive teller machine),” Farrell said. “We also want to have a mobile presence so we can attend events and meet our members where they are.”
A strong digital presence coupled with a network of sponsor-site branches and ITMs will allow Nirvana to establish a nationwide presence. At least that’s the plan. Although no specific technology decisions have been made, Marquez said that Nirvana hopes to rely heavily on technology CUSOs. “Tech CUSOs should be helping all de novo credit unions,” they said. “After all, we’re all in this together.”