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It’s been a long and dangerous journey for Arlo Washington, taking him from a job as a barber to president of a credit union.
The steps he passed, or missteps, along the way were all used for learning, however, and Washington is confident about his new venture: the People Trust Credit Union. The credit union, run entirely by minorities, opened in December in the former Bank of America office on East Broadway Street in North Little Rock.
The credit union was federally licensed by the National Credit Union Administration in September but is not yet open for business. Washington said the nonprofit is accepting applications for membership in the credit union and hopes to begin offering full financial services in March.
This is a good start for the Washington project, which is led by Washington and a five-member board of directors, all of whom are minorities. He said the credit union’s goal should be 300 members in the first year, and Washington said he already has 225 commitments or requests.
“We saw that checking accounts were a barrier for uninsured people to access the financial system,” said Washington, 45. “We wanted to find a solution for our community. Most of the people in the country are not able to get products and services from the bank because they don’t have credit or guarantees.”
The bank’s 13-year-old credit union chairman is Keith Fountain, a former assistant vice president at Regions Bank. Fountain said he wanted to join the credit union team because he has a passion to help strengthen communities.
“I’m a people person, and I’m looking forward to growing and making a big impact in the community,” Fountain said. “It will set the stage for other areas where we can grow as a financial union because I know it is needed. We will set the stage for something new, better and better.
According to Washington, the name of the credit union is due to its credibility as a businessman and businessmen in the capital; he has been running a non-profit private equity fund for the past ten years.
The credit union will focus on low-income members in Pulaski and Saline counties, and Washington said he hopes to open a second location after the first. The goal, said Washington, is to improve the numbers of people who have not been financed among the poor, the majority of the minority, the people in the group that is published.
“The name People Trust is fitting,” NCUA Chairman Todd Harper said in September. “This new credit union will open doors in central Arkansas to basic financial services like checking accounts for low and moderate income families.”
According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., 2.8% of households in the Little Rock Metropolitan Statistical Area do not have a deposit and another 17.2% are under banks.
Of those households that did not buy in the US that earn less than $ 15,000, 29.3% of Black and 26.5% of Hispanic, compared to 13.6% of white, according to the FDIC. For those with unpaid incomes between $15,000 and $30,000, the figures were 18.3% Black, 15.9% Hispanic and only 4.2% White.
“The strength of the credit union in the neighborhood brings back that extra income but also helps them understand the needs of the bank in the neighborhood,” Fountain said. “Most people are afraid to put their money in the bank because of what we grew up with. This gives us that presence to show that we are here to help.”
Washington said many poor people use recycled credit cards and bank accounts for “cheque-checking,” if at all. It is important to bring banking services and education to those who are not aware of these benefits.
“How do you provide financial services to someone who has experienced generational poverty?” Washington said. “They don’t understand what the aid and the loan are. We are working hard to reach the communities, and encourage them to open and trust, we have a lot of work to do.
“We should start with milk and bring it to cornbread.”
Arlo Washington, 45, says the credit union he founded grew out of interactions with his financially savvy college students. His team hopes to offer full financial services in March from his office in North Little Rock.
‘Open From Experience’
The idea of opening a credit union came from Washington’s own experiences and interactions with the community since that fateful day when he was 19-years-old in college at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock. Washington was told he had a student loan repayment, and was given a check for $1,700.
“I took the check, and I remember walking down the aisle and I was like ‘Man, that’s all I have. I have to do something,’” Washington said. “I had no one to go to, so I had an opportunity. I took the refund and opened a barbershop.”
The beginnings of Washington’s barber shop reflected his amiable nature. He bought a chair from a fellow barber, got three mirrors from a “guy on the sidewalk,” and spent $120 on a shelf from Lowe’s.
His first barbershop had a slatted floor — “I came up with glue for a year,” Washington said — and he had neon lights and signs on the credit card. It was successful.
“We used every penny, and we opened stores,” Washington said. “We have good hairdressers and good service, though. I have nine seats in one year.”
But Washington also faced trials and tribulations, something he believed would allow him to trust his people.
“I’ve been bankrupt, I’ve been arrested, I’ve been foreclosed on, all of that,” said Washington. “Speaking from experience, I can tell a person how to get their wealth back when they lose it.”
Go to School
Washington’s next business venture was the opening of a barber school, aptly named Washington Barber College, in 2008.
While running his school, Washington began to realize that many of his students were financially disadvantaged and had less access to financial matters.
The college was certified as a career learning institution in 2010 and was able to administer loans and Pell Grants provided by the Department of Education. Washington, however, wanted to make sure that his students not only received loans but used them effectively.
“We noticed that students coming into the program don’t have the financial tools they need to get out and that’s not a problem,” Washington said. “We didn’t want to be part of the problem; we wanted to be part of the solution. We want to provide financial education to our students at the forefront, so that they can get out there and be profitable and capable and expand.
Washington then created the nonprofit People Trust Loan Fund, which began with a modest $1,000. Washington’s plan is to make a few small loans each month to local residents, then gradually grow the fund through fees and interest while helping lenders raise a they throw.
The fund was approved by the US Department of the Treasury as a financial institution for community development in 2016. Washington’s People Trust fund supports the four unions. credit, although the two categories are not legally related.
“I felt the need as an entrepreneur to create something that would provide a solution for them,” Washington said. “(The barber school) because it was an anchor organization, people started knocking on our doors and asking for money, and we stood up. We had a name that people trusted.”