In a Nutshell: It’s no secret that credit unions are often more deeply rooted in their communities than their commercial bank counterparts. CASE Credit Union, which serves the Greater Lansing area, is no exception. The credit union is certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) which means that it is able to provide financial products and services, such as special loans and debit tools, to people who may not normally qualify for them. CASE Credit Union also provides an array of financial literacy initiatives for people of all ages. It also encourages volunteerism among its employees, provides monetary support to many local organizations, and recently established a grant to help Black women launch their own businesses.
Financial institutions like banks and credit unions serve many valuable purposes in the U.S., including providing a secure place for people to store their money, offering loan services, and even helping people grow their money.
But where banks often focus on the nuts and bolts of its financial products and services, credit unions are known to extend their priorities to the communities they serve. Credit unions are inherently for the people, as their members are also part owners of the institution.
That means that, while being profitable and thriving is important, it is by no means the sole goal of the credit union. There are a lot of credit unions around the country doing great work to serve their members and communities, and we love to shine a light on these institutions and help them tell their stories.
And that brings us to CASE Credit Union, which serves the Greater Lansing area with six branches, 45,000 members, and $360 million in assets.
CASE Credit Union goes above and beyond — even for a credit union — when it comes to prioritizing the needs of its members as well as its community.
We recently spoke with CASE Credit Union’s President and CEO Jeffrey Benson to learn more about the institution’s mission, the services it offers, and the many ways in which it makes the Greater Lansing area a better place.
“We’re really proud of our diversity. Our staff is about 40% diverse and our board is about 60% diverse. And it really helps in our community involvement,” Benson said. “We love to help people — we do a lot of philanthropic things as a credit union and as executives.”
A CDFI Credit Union with Products Designed to Help Low-Income Households
Benson explained that CASE Credit Union is certified as a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). This means that the U.S. Treasury Department has designated the credit union as an organization to provide financial services to low-income communities and help certain people who may lack access to financing options.
“We pride ourselves in living our mission of assisting members and employees to achieve financial success through service that is superior, convenient, and easy to use,” according to the credit union website.
In addition to all the offerings one would expect from a modern financial institution, Benson said CASE Credit Union provides several products created for those from low-income households.
“One is called Responsible Rides. These are car loans up to $8,000 for individuals that can’t get approved through the normal process,” he said. “We help them get those rides and hopefully it improves their credit, and when they’re done with that, they’re ready for a conventional automobile loan.”
Benson said CASE Credit Union also offers load-and-go cards that are prepaid and function like debit cards. These are designed for individuals who are unable to qualify for a regular debit card.
The organization also partners with local treasury offices on tax relief initiatives that help keep individuals in their homes when they are behind on paying their property taxes, the CEO said.
“Those are three of the big things that we do, in addition to a whole bunch of other smaller things, to help the unbanked and moderate- to low-income people,” Benson said. “Even with business owners, we’ll take chances with entrepreneurs or people who don’t have the best credit or whatever to help get them started.”
Financial Literacy Initiatives to Fit Any Age Group
As an organization focused on the idea of people helping people, CASE is dedicated to strengthening its community through school education programs and other financial literacy initiatives, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We partner with the Lansing School District and the City of Lansing for their learning labs to help students who aren’t able to get virtual learning at home,” Benson said.
Prior to the pandemic, when representatives could visit schools in person, CASE Credit Union also partnered with schools in surrounding districts.
“We would go into the classes,” Benson said. “We would go to the elementary schools, junior high schools, and high schools and teach financial literacy classes.”
He said the institution also partnered with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to deliver financial education.
“One of the things that we’re really proud of right now is, since everybody’s at home learning, we set this thing for our employees’ kids,” Benson said. “We call it the CASE Alternate Learning Portal. It’s free to the employees, and they can get an hour a day of tutoring help or to learn about financial education.”
The credit union also hosts a variety of seminars that are free and open to anyone in the community.
“Our financial seminars are geared towards educating the community on popular financial topics,” according to the website. “Our practice is engaging and comfortable, yet informative. You will come with a curious mind and leave inspired, with a list of actionable items that you can immediately implement to improve your financial life.”
Volunteer Efforts, Sponsorships, and Charity Donations
CASE Credit Union has a long history of community involvement stretching back to its founding in 1936. It remains heavily involved in a wide variety of efforts to support communities in the Greater Lansing area, from volunteering to sponsorships to grants.
Benson said the credit union provides each employee with eight hours each year of paid time to volunteer for a local organization or cause.
“We go help homeless shelters, we help the places where they give out food, where they give out lunches to elementary kids, things like that,” he said. Benson said he serves on six local charity boards himself and encourages other leaders at the credit union to volunteer for at least one local board.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the credit union to limit some of its hands-on community initiatives, but it continues to be active in many causes.
“We also support local charitable organizations with financial contributions and sponsorships,” according to the credit union. “Additionally, we take an active role in numerous local events and committees (…).”
Benson said the staff holds a fundraiser each quarter and donates funds to a preselected local organization.
“Even through the pandemic, we still have ways where we do charity auctions to raise money,” he said. “One of our big fundraisers is allowing employees to pay to dress down one day a week and that money goes to charity.”
CASE Credit Union also supports the local business community through grants.
“We partnered with the Michigan Credit Union League — and they matched our grant funds — for the Transformation Gems Partnership,” Benson said. “These are grants for Black women that are starting their own businesses. They get up to $1,000 that they don’t have to pay back.”
He said the business women must have some sweat equity invested in their business and show a solid business plan to qualify.
“It’s going very well. We’ll probably end up having like 20 or 30 women that will actually get these grants,” Benson said. “So that’s great. We’re pretty proud to help those minority-owned businesses get started.”