Members of OFN’s Strategic Communications team and a film crew of two hit the road last week,  filming on location for one of the Awardees of the 2016 Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance.

The first stop was picturesque Appalachia and the headquarters of Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union (ACFCU) in Gray, Tennessee. In a two-day visit, we tried to capture on film some of the qualities that made this CDFI stand out while taking a tour of their expansive and rural service area.

 

ACFCU serves residents in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia, a service area of approximately 425,000 residents, of which 26 percent live below the poverty line, and 28 percent are unbanked or underbanked. Many major banks have left the area due to a lack of population density and the high cost of providing adequate bank services.

Without access to mainstream banks, residents are forced to rely on paycards, cash advances, title loans, and other high-cost financing services that can take an undue toll on household incomes. It is these members of the community that ACFCU works the hardest to reach, aiming to provide valuable financial coaching and products that can help families and individuals connect to a better path for financial resilience. ACFCU’s NEXT Award winning innovation is to pilot three Interactive Teller Machines (ITMs) in different rural communities within the credit union’s service area. ITM’s go beyond the function of automated teller machines to provide a bank teller experience via video and audio at a kiosk that saves the customer from having to travel many hundreds of miles.

Candy Craig and Kip Parks, both of ACFCU, were our gracious guides. They drove us hundreds of miles through three states, where we met with partner organizations that are piloting the ITMs. We learned about the needs of these rural communities, where the population density averages 90 people per mile. It was easy to see how ITMs will make it easier for people to access services and gain financial education.We also discussed the obstacles many residents face in terms of access to banking. We met Sue Christian, a family engagement specialist at Berea College who works in Owlsey County through the Promise Neighborhood program, a partner of ACFCU. She shared the dire need for financial counseling in the area (home to 4,858 people), and how the three ACFCU ITMs will provide a gateway to education for so many of the families that need it.

Further along in our trip we met Mike Caudill, CEO of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation in Whitesburg, Kentucky, the second pilot location for the ITMs. Unemployment is a major concern in this southeastern Kentucky town, which has lost many coal mining industry jobs. In addition, the area’s residents are plagued by chronic diseases. Kentucky has the highest rate in the country of chronic diseases such as hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and cardio pulmonary afflictions, and Whitesberg has the highest rate in Kentucky, making it, as Caudill puts it, “ground zero for chronic diseases.”

With such issues plaguing the area, financial counseling becomes even more important. The ITMs will provide services to residents that have an opportunity to gain one-on-one financial counseling through these 24-hour machines, connecting them directly to an individual that can help with anything from understanding their credit history to taking out a loan.

Interview with Ron

ACFCU will also leverage its NEXT Award funds to rapidly deploy $17 million in additional loans in its service area. This strategy represents the latest innovation in the credit union’s investment in technology and remote delivery of services including a state-of-the-art electronic delivery system and a 24/7 call center.

Learn more about our 2016 NEXT Awardees, whose innovative ideas are featured in the media:

And get ready to see the compelling video and hear first-hand from ACFCU's President and CEO Ron Scott at the NEXT Awards Ceremony at the OFN Conference, October 25 in Atlanta.

 

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