Meeting our members' alternative transportation needs

Urban landscapes are changing throughout our cities. With these changes, transportation is evolving to meet the needs of growing populations that require accessible alternatives. Single-owner vehicle centric environments are becoming more occupied by people utilizing public transportation, vehicle and ride share programs, and healthier, non-motorized forms of transit. In the banking industry, credit unions have excelled at providing low cost vehicle loans. At Affinity Plus, we’re exploring how we might adapt our services to cater to communities with various transportation preferences.

On Your Path, our bicycle financing program, is addressing a key component of transportation accessibility by making quality bike ownership easier and more affordable for our members.

As we developed this idea in 2015, we knew other credit unions already offered bike loan products. Through collaboration and information sharing with these credit unions, we nailed down what we wanted our loan to look like, ideas on how we could promote this service and which members might take advantage.  

Cue Bill Dossett, Executive Director of Nice Ride Minnesota, a local bike-share program that’s been rapidly growing over the past few years. Due to Affinity Plus’ active involvement in and commitment to serving the Twin Cities bike community, Bill identified our credit union as the perfect financial partner for a new bike loan program he wanted to launch.

We quickly uncovered a mutual vision of serving our communities' transportation needs through collaboration. It’s through this partnership that we’ve more deeply engrained our credit union in the broader biking scene.  Now we’re working closely with four local bike shops to determine how best to facilitate the loan process to ensure convenience and value for prospective bike owners.

For our pilot and the initial scope of this project, we’re planning to reach a younger and under-served population in Minneapolis. The bike shops we’re partnering with are strategically located to serve college-aged young adults and lower income neighborhoods and have a proven track record of a commitment to offering quality bikes through customer-centric service.

The On Your Path program is an opportunity to learn the intricacies of bike ownership and personal finance. The communications we are building - a specific landing page, bike tags - have information on bike quality standards, how to choose the bike that’s the right fit and will describe how financing will benefit your financial picture. We hope our program will be a way to establish and build credit, while introducing the benefits of being a part of a credit union.

Currently we plan to pilot the program this fall. The landing page we're creating will direct theprospective participant to get pre-approved at the Affinity Plus loan application web page. The application takes two minutes via your smart phone. The member receives an email with an automatic response – approved or under review. Each bike shop will have their own “Purchase Agreement” that reiterates bike quality standards and how this loan will impact them. The member then takes a photo of this page or scans it, emails it to Affinity Plus, and they’re done! The quick, easy process allows the member to walk out with a high quality bike at a low cost of financing.

During this pilot, tracking and measuring outcomes with our Business Intelligence team will occur monthly to ensure we're meeting our objectives. After six months, we will conduct an internal review and bring all partners' perspectives together for insights how best to continue the program.

What does this mean for credit unions?

There are new articles each day that reference the regulatory pressures of the CFPB and the innovative push of the fintech startup explosion that are having dramatic effects on how we serve members.  Meanwhile, many other posts continue to reference large populations of consumers who are struggling financially, whether it’s under the burden of debt, lack of access to borrowing or being stuck in the vicious cycle of payday lending.

Given our not-for-profit status and our people-helping-people model, we’re well positioned to provide smaller loans at lower costs to our members.  By pairing this offering with financial education and community partnerships, credit unions can exemplify their cooperative nature. As we know, it's when members actually feel the true meaning of what is a credit union that they become loyal advocates. On Your Path is one way to showcase who we are and what we can do by embracing the cooperative spirit.

Ben Hering