California CU (Glendale, CA) and its subsidiary North Island CU (San Diego) have both received the official Bank On National Account Standards certification by the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund) for its checking account product, which can benefit 19 percent of California households (and 13 percent of San Diego households) categorized as underbanked or unbanked.
California CU is one of only four credit unions in Los Angeles and 15 across the state offering accounts certified as meeting Bank On National Account Standards. Both credit unions’ Option Checking account is certified as meeting these standards, bringing a new level of inclusivity, access, and choice to banking and financial education for unbanked, underbanked, and underserved community members.
“We believe a core aspect of our cooperative mission is inclusive banking, ensuring everyone in our communities has equal access to safe and affordable banking,” said California CU CEO Steve O’Connell. “The Bank On certification will support our work in making traditional financial products available to unbanked and underbanked community members. We are excited to lead the way in this key initiative in Southern California, and we look forward to working with local coalitions to ensure all individuals can bank, save, and borrow with a trusted financial partner.”
A key challenge facing unbanked and underbanked individuals has been a lack of safe and appropriate accounts offered by mainstream financial institutions. Without a checking account, many use high-fee alternative services, including check-cashers, payday lenders and pawn shops — paying far too much for basic financial transactions and losing the ability to build savings, assets, and a strong credit history.
California CU’s Option Checking offers safe access to a traditional checking account, with zero fees or overdraft charges to support moving members out of a debt cycle. The account provides a free debit card, along with access to online and mobile banking, individualized financial counseling, financial education tools, and 30,000-plus surcharge-free ATMs nationwide. Members can sign up for the account online or in any credit union branch.
The CFE Fund certification is the latest step in California CU’s work to meet the needs of underserved communities. In addition to its Option Checking account, the credit union has adjusted credit underwriting guidelines, as well as launched credit card products designed for members looking to build or restore credit history.
The credit union also offers a full suite of financial education and literacy resources. Last year alone, virtual programs reached over 26,000 individuals, and in-person events provided more than 750 people with financial literacy training.
According to a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) 2021 survey, nearly 19 percent of households in California are categorized as underbanked or unbanked. In addition, 4.5 percent of all U.S. households are categorized as unbanked (without a checking or savings account), and 14 percent are underbanked (meaning they use non-traditional financial services).
“We are delighted to award its national Bank On account certification to California Credit Union’s Option Checking account,” said Jonathan Mintz, President and CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. “Option Checking offers Southern California residents who are looking to improve their finances a safe, affordable, and truly useful mainstream banking product to access and manage their money. California Credit Union‘s offering of this terrific account brings them into the forefront of national banking access efforts, and we thank them.”
North Bay CU Certified as a CDFI Institution
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund recently certified North Bay CU (Santa Rosa, CA) as a CDFI institution.
The CDFI certification is available only to organizations that have proven they provide financial services and products in communities that historically have lacked access to traditional banking services. The certification is granted with the purpose of generating economic growth and opportunity in some of the nation’s most distressed communities.
North Bay CU CEO Chris Call said the certification is a validation of the years of work the credit union has accomplished to ensure banking services are available to everyone in the North Bay region of California.
“As a CDFI-certified credit union, we are able to meet the needs of economically disadvantaged individuals within our underserved communities,” Call said.
He noted a recent study by MightyDeposits.com that stated North Bay CU stands out for financing “low income communities and communities of color.”
The CDFI Fund was established in 1994 to boost lending and community development through certified CDFI lenders, allowing them to expand their reach into economically distressed areas and underserved communities. CDFI Certification opens opportunities for institutions to access CDFI Fund grants, which must be used to support financially vulnerable residents and communities.
North Bay CU has $112 million in assets and serves everyone who lives, works or worships in Sonoma, Marin, Napa and Solano counties.