REAL Solutions Becomes Signature Program of National Credit Union Foundation

Expanding Program to Help 2,000 Credit Unions in 33 States Serve 250,000 Members of Modest Means

12 States to Sign On in First Half 2007


To further credit unions’ efforts to serve low-wealth and modest means households, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) today officially begins the national expansion of REAL Solutions as its signature program.

Over the next three years as a program of the Foundation, REAL Solutions is projected to help more than 2,000 credit unions in 33 states offer new products and services to attract more than 250,000 members from these largely untapped and underserved markets.

“REAL Solutions meets the prime criteria we established for the Foundation’s signature program,” points out NCUF Chairman Mary Cunningham. REAL Solutions will:

√ Provide affordable new services to people with low wealth;
√ Empower new members to begin saving and building wealth;
√ Engage partners on all levels of the credit union movement;
√ Impact a large number of states and credit unions;
√ Attract funding from outside the credit union movement;
√ Produce measurable results.
“As a program of the Foundation, REAL Solutions is designed to help credit unions effectively reach low-wealth households and create a new generation of loyal credit union members ,” explains NCUF Executive Director Steve Delfin. “This is important because underserved households – while at the bottom of the economic pyramid now – represent future savers, future car-buyers, future homeowners, and future generations of credit union members.”

From Pilot to Nationwide Launch

REAL Solutions began in 2004 as a pilot by the Filene Research Institute. After achieving success in three states (Wisconsin, Ohio and Maryland), Filene’s intent was to spin off REAL Solutions to an organization that could expand the program to many other states. In a historic meeting that set the direction of the credit union movement’s largest charity for the next three years, the NCUF Board in June 2006 voted unanimously to adopt REAL Solutions as its signature program.

Filene Advisory Board Chairman Larry Knoll said “Filene is pleased that the Foundation will be making REAL Solutions available to credit unions nationwide.”

New Staff

The spin-off to NCUF takes place this week. REAL Solutions National Program Director Lois Kitsch and National Learning Center & Database Manager Jeff Purvis have transferred from Filene to become employees of NCUF. They are recruiting a team of Field Coaches who will work with leagues to offer REAL Solutions products and services designed to help credit unions attract new members in their states.

New Funding

In partnership with state credit union foundations, leagues, and the Corporate Credit Union Network, NCUF is now funding REAL Solutions through the Community Investment Fund (CIF). CIF is an award-winning investment that enables credit unions to earn returns while making charitable donations to NCUF and their states. Delfin emphasized that state credit union foundations and leagues can self-fund their REAL Solutions initiatives by promoting increased credit union investment in the CIF.

New States

In the first half of 2007, NCUF plans to introduce REAL Solutions in at least 12 more states. Already NCUF has confirmation of participation from Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Virginia. NCUF expects to be working on REAL Solutions with 15 leagues and almost 300 credit unions by the end of June.

New Outreach Plans

NCUF’s three-year plan for REAL Solutions envisions new ways to reach out including, but not limited to:
  • New partnerships between leagues and NCUF. Partnerships will transfer proven business models, technology, and skills from REAL Solutions program consultants to dedicated league staff, who will in turn transfer proven models to member credit unions.
  • National workshops where participants will visit low-wealth neighborhoods and hear from experts on ways to meet their unique needs. Credit union leaders will return home with turn-key products and services to serve low-wealth families in their communities.
  • Payday lending alternatives with lower fees and attractive terms. REAL Solutions participants will have the option to offer a “Credit Union Stretch Pay Loan” as a lower-cost alternative to payday lenders.
  • REAL Solutions Learning Center documenting the many ways credit unions reach out to the low-wealth market. Using tested research strategies, Filene and NCUF will make this database available to all credit unions and their support organizations. Filene and NCUF will also provide tools to help individual credit unions identify how many low-wealth members they serve. The new site will share best practices so that credit unions in all states can benefit from the knowledge gained through REAL Solutions.
How REAL Solutions Works

“REAL” stands for “Relevant, Effective, Asset-building, Loyalty-producing” Solutions. The program works through state credit union leagues to help credit unions offer up to 20 products and services that have proven successful in delivering a comprehensive strategy to meet the financial needs of low-wealth families.

“REAL Solutions is customized for each potential membership,” relates Kitsch, a Credit Union Development Educator (CUDE) who for the past two decades has led a wide variety of credit union outreach programs worldwide. “When adopting REAL Solutions, each league and each credit union determines the specific products and services they will offer and the specific market segments they will reach.”

Target Market

In striving to reach low-wealth households, REAL Solutions seeks an even broader target market than other efforts focusing solely on “low-income.” Research has shown that the low-wealth market includes not only lower-income consumers, but also consumers with moderate and middle incomes who have been unable to build significant savings or assets. REAL Solutions aims to help all of these consumers become credit union members, grow savings and accumulate assets that will generate wealth for their families.

Pilot Results

To indicate the impact of REAL Solutions, the Filene Research Institute released a special report that documents results from REAL Solutions credit unions in the pilot states. REAL Solutions: Solving the Financial Service Needs of America’s Working Families is available by contacting NCUF or the Filene Research Institute.

For more information on REAL Solutions, contact National Program Director Lois Kitsch at (202) 262-5325 or lkitsch@ncuf.coop.