Using Community Data to Understand Members’ Unique Needs

3/23/21

Last week, the Northwest Credit Union Foundation convened more than 70 credit union leaders, where they had the opportunity to hear from United Way representatives from across the region during the event, Meeting Member Needs — Using Data to Drive Impact.

United Way walked credit unions through the latest ALICE reports for IdahoOregon, and Washington, showcasing how powerful the information can be in understanding the populations who fall within the ALICE index — Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed. Credit unions are well positioned to reach those within the ALICE index, providing them with the tailored products, services, and financial guidance they need to achieve financial well-being, United Way representatives stressed.

People who belong to the ALICE population often say they “make too much, but not enough” when it comes to their incomes and qualifying for assistance for essential needs, such as childcare or food. They tend to live on the edge of financial stability, where one emergency could result in a major setback. Many didn’t recover from the Great Recession, and were hit particularly hard by the financial impacts of COVID-19, said Stephanie Hoopes, Director of the United Way ALICE Project.

“ALICE never recovered from our last great economic disruption — the Great Recession,” Hoopes explained. “The cost of basic goods are increasing faster than wages. Employment growth has been concentrated in low-wage jobs, and then the nature of work has been changing, too. So the brunt of economic fluctuations have been disproportionally borne by many hourly paid and low-wage workers. There’s a large number of households living on the edge.”

Hoopes went on the explain the data further and what it means for Northwest households that fall in an area between poverty and financial stability — 28% in Idaho, 32% in Oregon, and 23% in Washington. When faced with daily financial hurdles, ALICE populations struggle to get ahead and invest in themselves to achieve major life milestones, such as buying a home or saving for college, she said.

Seth Schaefer, President and CEO of Rivermark Community Credit Union, stressed how valuable ALICE data has been at not only identifying members’ needs, but those of his own employees.

“As a credit union, we know that we can move words to action. These kinds of problems are systematic, multi-faceted, interconnected, systemic. And these problems, generally from a credit union’s standpoint, I would argue, are best tackled in asking questions such as ‘what role can we play in the solution’ or ‘what can we impact,” Schaefer said. “We’ve had the ALICE index in front of our Board for the last two strategic planning sessions as our roadmap of ‘are we living our mission.’”

He went on to speak about how the credit union has used ALICE data to understand Rivermark employees’ needs. “Look at your own employees. Would employees in your organization fall within the ALICE index? In our case, the answer was yes,” he said. “So we had to look hard at our salaries, our benefits, and say ‘how do we become part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

During the event, attendees had the opportunity to break up into state-specific groups, led by United Way representatives from Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. They took a deep dive into how to use the highly interactive ALICE website, where data may be sorted in order to drill down even further and create customized reports, and they collaborated on topics, from housing and childcare costs, to wage inequity, ITIN lending, financial services accessibility, and more.

“You can slice and dice this data set to meet your very specific locations, to look at very very narrow geographies, or to look at bigger broader regions,” explained Nora Carpenter, President and CEO of United Way of Treasure Valley in Idaho. “You can actually create households budgets that meet the exact needs that you may be considering within your specific market.”

Carpenter told attendees the credit union industry is well-poised to be a leader in lifting the ALICE population up from survival to thriving financial health.

“Your leadership in this area is critical to not just to the individual success of your members, but to our economy as a whole,” Carpenter told credit union attendees. “I would argue this group is well poised to help be a leader in your community and across the region to help see this kind of stability and ultimately the financial benefit to the whole community.”

Sharee Adkins, NWCUF Executive Director, said that ALICE data helps credit unions look for new opportunities and think about how they can frame solutions in a different way.

“Credit unions are well-suited to this work, with their strong member and community connections. They’re nimble, creative, and people-centric,” she said. “The high credit union turnout at Meeting Member Needs was so exciting to see, and the collaboration during the breakout sessions will serve as a great launching point for future collaboration.”

The Northwest Credit Union Foundation is proud to partner with the United Way to present and bring this valuable information to Northwest credit unions. Many credit unions were new to the interactive data tools available and the specific needs ALICE populations face. Now, equipped with data, credit unions have new opportunities to identify financial services gaps, grow community partnerships, and pilot new products and services to directly address members’ and communities’ needs. Credit unions that would like to learn more about ALICE data and present it to their Boards or leadership teams should reach out to Adkins.

Editor’s Note: Read more about how credit unions use ALICE data in this story, published in Anthem on March 9. Want to learn more about how your credit union can partner with the Northwest Credit Union Foundation? Visit NWCUF online and contact the team.