Unitus Community CU Wins WOCCU 2023 Digital Growth Award for App Serving the Underbanked
By W.B. King
In the Portland, Ore. region, African American family income is less than half that of white families, and the poverty rate among African American children is nearly 50% compared to 13% for white children, explained Megan Snyder, Unitus Community Credit Union’s vice president of strategic partnerships and portfolio management.
“Simultaneously, Black Oregonians are seven times more likely to be unbanked and two and a half times more likely to be underbanked compared to white Oregonians, which translates to a lack of resources, education and services that results in an asset poverty rate of 48% in Black Oregonians,” she told Finopotamus.
Azie Taylor Morton
In an effort to better serve underbanked communities, Unitus Community Credit Union partnered with Advantis Credit Union, Consolidated Community Credit Union, Point West Credit Union, Rivermark Community Credit Union and the GoWest Foundation. The latter organization works with credit unions and community partners throughout Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming to provide solutions to issues impacting the financial health of the people and communities they serve.
“As we started to formalize this partnership, it became clear we had an opportunity to bring an innovative solution to promote and expand our services to the Urban League of Portland and community,” Snyder said. “Unitus submitted a grant application to the NCUA for Underserved Outreach.”
In 2021, NCUA awarded the $1.7 billion, Portland, Ore.-based Unitus Community Credit Union a $50,000 grant, which helped support the cost of creating an equitable digital solution in form of a mobile app.
“We developed a project team internally to look at how best to provide financial services, education, loan calculator resources, and most importantly, a connection to a local credit union coach,” Snyder noted. “As we began developing the solution, we wanted to name the app after a key figure in our industry, Azie Taylor Morton.”
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Mortin as the 36th Treasurer of the United States. She later served on the Austin Housing Authority Board of Commissioners (HACA). The organization created the Azie Morton Scholarship Fund to assist low-income residents who attend her alma mater, Huston-Tillotson University.
Financial Empowerment Collaborative
To accomplish the altruistic goal, Unitus Community Credit Union, which supports more than 105,000 members at 13 branch locations, teamed with the Monrovia, Calif.-based fintech FTSI.
“By combining the expertise and resources of FTSI and Unitus, we have created a mobile app that addresses the pressing needs of underserved communities,” stated Susan Napier, CEO and chairwoman of FTSI. “Together, we are determined to make a positive impact on the lives of those who need it most.”
In conjunction with the Urban League of Portland, Azie supports the Financial Empowerment Collaborative (FEC), which provides financial education workshops, credit union resources, and financial coaching to Black Oregonians, explained Snyder.
“The local resources have been approved by the community-based organizations to assist members in overall financial wellness,” she noted. “This may include family assistance, food assistance, insurance support, estate planning, and more.”
Azie app users, she further explained, input information on their current financial status and what their financial interests are. Then the app connects them with a financial coach at a local credit union.
“This design allows the person to lead their own journey while the credit union can meet them where they’re at, based on the information provided within Azie,” said Snyder.
Award-Winning App Journey
During the annual World Council of Credit Unions Conference, which was held in late July 2023 in Vancouver, Canada, the organization awarded Unitus Community Credit Union with its prestigious Digital Growth Award.
“We are honored to have earned this recognition from the World Council of Credit Unions,” noted Steven Stapp, president and CEO. “At Unitus, we pride ourselves on being innovators in the credit union industry and this is just another example of how we can leverage technology to provide more inclusive access to financial services within underserved communities.”
Snyder explained that the credit union began the “app journey” in October 2021. Before the solution went live, a number of pilots were conducted with credit union partners, the Urban League of Portland and Unitus Community Credit Union employees.
“In June 2023, we successfully launched the app fully to the Urban League community and have received positive feedback,” Snyder said. “Of the 48 program participants who elected to connect with a financial coach, 33 of them found a coach through the Azie app from the comfort of their own homes.”
From discovery to roll out, Snyder said it was a streamlined experience with a limited tech lift. “The app is supported by an IT team at FTSI with only one Unitus system administrator involved.”
To further promote the campaign, the Urban League of Portland is “rolling out the app and supporting education efforts,” she said. “It’s been important to us to have that leadership and expertise to reach the community. The Urban League’s credibility within the community is paramount and we want to build trust.”
Snyder believes that Azie will make a positive impact, building generational wealth and supporting financial wellness for “our Black and Brown communities.” Moving forward, she expects adoption rates to grow, which, she added, will “help members in their financial journeys as they build credit, wealth and understanding of credit union products and services.”