NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J.-Think of it as the 21st century's version of the storied cigar boxes of old that were passed around to get a new credit union chartered.

Two college buddies, graduate and go on to big, important careers on two different coasts, only to come together years later to try to do something good, and the somewhat-oddly named Internet Archive FCU is born.

"I did what we call the New York Bank shuffle, working at a variety of different banks here," related Jordan Modell, CEO of the newly chartered IAFCU. "A friend of mine from college, Brewster Kahle, was always teasing me that banks are evil and I should do something good with my life."

Modell decided Kahle-best known for having developed the "if you liked this, you might also like this" technology for Amazon.com-wasn't all that wrong. "We both wanted to find a way to serve the community, and in looking around, we realized that the way to serve a community is by starting a credit union."

With its low-income designation, the new community charter will serve people living, working, worshiping, attending school or participating in associations headquarters in New Brunswick and Highland Park, N.J. , individuals participating in programs to alleviate poverty or distress in the approved area and incorporated and unincorporated organizations located in the approved area. The credit union is specifically targeting the Mexican immigrant community, Modell said.

Modell, of course, brings his banking background to the table. His friend Kahle is bringing the financial backing through the organization he pioneered called Internet Archive, which seeks to create a sort of Library of Congress for the Internet (see related story).

 

A 'Sweet Nickname'

"We wanted to give our sponsor, Internet Archive, their due for fronting the money for this," Modell said, when asked about the credit union's unusual name, particularly for a CU that seeks to serve a populace that likely has never heard of Internet Archive.

"We've already got a sweet nickname," he said. "Word of mouth is everything with this community, and they've already given us their own name: Caja D'oro, which literally translates to Box of Gold, but basically, they're referring to us as Golden Credit Union."

And it's that word of mouth-and the nickname that has grown out of it-that IAFCU will largely be relying on for its marketing, at least at first.

"This is a very tight-knit community, so it's much more important to have that word-of-mouth than advertising," Modell suggested. "There are about 10 to 12,000 Mexican people living in New Brunswick, and the overwhelming majority of them are all from the same area of Oaxaca. It's a small world.

And it's a world that's largely been fleeced by other financial services providers, Modell said. "When we did the surveys required for the charter-and we did twice as many as were required-what we found is that at one-third of this community is unbanked and a great many more who are underbanked, and they're getting fleeced. They're paying $50 per transaction to wire money back to Mexico. We'll be offering wire transfer services through the Directo a Mexico program for $5 per transaction. That alone is going to make a real difference for these people."

 

An NCUA Bureaucracy, But...

But it's not enough to be offering a great deal-people have to know that someone is offering that great deal. "We've been working with the Mexican consulate and Mexican outreach groups in the area," Modell related.

The credit union is slated for a soft opening in early October with a grand opening later that same month.

Though Modell had nothing but good things to say about key people at NCUA who helped steer the charter through-most notably Bill Myer, Kent Buckham and Chairman Debbie Matz-the hardest thing about starting a CU, he said, is the bureaucracy.

"We made at least 2,350 different changes to the documents as they got sent aback and forth to NCUA," he said. "We had incredible support from some key people, and I was literally shocked at how hard working they are. I can't count the number of times I was on the phone at 11 p.m. with them. But some of them, well, let's just say they weren't so supportive. Once we got to the right people, however, they were fantastic."

But it's an arduous process, Modell said, and rightly so. "I'm totally in favor of NCUA's mission. It should be a thorough process. I honestly agree that someone looking to start a new credit union should be thoroughly vetted, but we had a to jump through a lot of hoops."

Subscribe Now

Authoritative analysis and perspective for every segment of the credit union industry

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.