CommunityAmerica Credit Union ($4.6B, Lenexa, KS) is focused on delivering financial peace of mind for its members and the entire Kansas City metro region. To address the key socioeconomic determinants of peace of mind, in 2021 CommunityAmerica began teaming up with strategic partners in fields including education, health and wellbeing, and community. Two of those select partners are Metropolitan Community College in Missouri and Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) in Kansas.
CommunityAmerica CEO Lisa Ginter acknowledges that “a financial institution alone can’t solve all these challenges.”
That’s why the credit union held a listening session with community leaders in Kansas City about three years ago to understand the problems that need to be solved. Some of the top issues, according to Ginter, included crime, education, housing, and banking.
“There are areas in our community that are thriving and there are pockets that need help elevating themselves,” she says.
It became evident that those areas in need of revitalization needed something more than just a branch. Instead, the credit union developed “Peace of Mind Access Centers,” a network of facilities to be located throughout the communities CommunityAmerica serves. The ultimate plan is to have five or six of these access centers across the metropolitan area to help rebuild communities, in addition to CommnityAmerica’s 30+ branch locations. The centers will offer more than just financial services, with some focusing on education and larger centers bringing together holistic resources to address all aspects of peace of mind.
As CommunityAmerica shared its vision, it became clear that other partners had similar ideas and were willing to work together to make it happen. While the credit union has approached some directly and been approached by others, its focus is on aligning with organizations that share a vision of helping Kansas Citians thrive and are willing to invest in it.
The first of the new centers will open in August 2022 in partnership with Metropolitan Community College in Kansas City, MO. “When I explained our vision, the Chancellor, Dr. Kimberly Beatty, was all over it,” says Ginter, as she describes the two-story location that will house the college upstairs and focus on financial education and counseling downstairs.
CommunityAmerica’s financial well-being coaches will work with individuals to create a life plan, setting goals to help them thrive. “We want to be in this with them whatever their financial goals are,” says Ginter. That doesn’t mean there aren’t high expectations for individuals who want to get ahead, however.
“Much like a doctor’s office, we’ll have frequent check-ins to make sure the people we’re working with are doing what they need to do,” she adds. And just like following a doctor’s advice to improve physical health, ultimately it’s going to be up to those individuals to make a shift and get on the right path financially.
Upstairs the focus of the college will be on the education and training needed to earn a living wage.
Meanwhile, on the Kansas side of the metro area, a partnership with Kansas City Kansas Community College (KCKCC) will include CommunityAmerica in a much larger facility. According to the Kansas City Business Journal, KCKCC’s planned $70 million, 130,000 square-foot education center will house a YMCA and CommunityAmerica branch, as well as offer behavioral and mental health services. The facility is expected to open in 2024.
CommunityAmerica’s certified financial well-being coaches will offer services in up to 5,000 square feet of that new education center located in the downtown area. Childcare and other services will also be provided on-site to help support non-traditional students.
“Because of Lisa’s role in the community and the brand CommunityAmerica has built in our market, our name was on KCKCC’s radar as a potential partner on this project,” says Whitney Bartelli, chief marketing and strategy officer for CommunityAmerica.
While having a financial services partner wasn’t on their radar at first, survey responses revealed to both KCKCC and Metropolitan Community College that banking was a critical need. CommunityAmerica’s ongoing community involvement initiatives – from chamber boards to supporting nonprofits and serving on economic development councils – made it the obvious choice.
“My involvement in the community is not so much about me or even the credit union, it’s really about going in and helping advance our community in a big way,” says Ginter. “When Kansas City is thriving, the businesses around it are thriving. Doing good by people results in good things for everyone.”
“When Kansas City is thriving, the businesses around it are thriving. Doing good by people results in good things for everyone.”
She advises other credit union CEOs to immerse themselves in their communities to really understand the issues they face and how to address them. The financial side is a huge piece, but is ultimately just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to overall peace of mind and a life well-lived.
“We’re very well-known for putting our money where our mouth is,” says Bartelli. “We also share our time and talents, which has helped us form relationships with these community colleges and other partners.”
The Potential Impact
While the credit union is still developing its road map, the access centers’ success will likely be measured through data such as improvements in the rate of homeownership, higher graduation rates, improved credit scores and more.
While CommunityAmerica has been actively involved in researching and developing community solutions for some time, there’s still lots to be done.
“I’m still trying to solve affordable housing, for example,” says Ginter, who is working with nonprofits and meeting with local real estate agents to discuss challenges and potential solutions.
Ginter and others at CommunityAmerica understand that consumers in depressed areas may need more assistance than these centers can offer, which may require the credit union to take on additional risk. However, Ginter believes that risk will deliver returns in the form of more members having better financial and life plans.
In the long-run, the success of the project and the credit union itself will be measured by how well CommunityAmerica is helping people.