Anthony Price had a problem. Like a number of Owsley County, Kentucky residents, Price travels for work. “Unless you work for the school system or the state, there’s not a lot of options,” Price says of economic opportunity in what the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey found was the third-poorest county in the United States. Owsley County’s July 2018 unemployment rate of 8.0 percent was nearly double the state’s rate.
|The Census Bureau's Opportunity Atlas paints a challenging portrait|
of Owsley County, Kentucky.
Traveling for Norfolk Southern on a large production railroad tie gang is good for Price’s finances. It hasn’t made accessing financial services in his hometown of Booneville that easy, though. This isn’t surprising given the lack of opportunity that has long plagued remote Appalachian areas – a fact summed up in this snapshot by the Census Bureau’s “Opportunity Atlas” (also shown at right).
“The banks want you to come in physically and sign papers and wait a week or two for a loan application,” Price says.
That route is tough on people who earn their living away. Last year, Price used an online credit provider for a vehicle loan. He did it despite having good credit and despite the 23 percent interest rate.
Then Price learned about Appalachian Community Federal Credit Union (ACFCU). The mission-driven CDFI credit union placed a “virtual teller machine” in Booneville in 2017 specifically to help address its vastly underserved population by using financial technology.
|Lisa Botner is a Booneville native who is working to|
help develop her home county.
Price, who was needing a new work vehicle, messaged former classmate and ACFCU specialist Lisa Botner on Facebook – virtual step one.
ACFCU’s Owsley County model helps the credit union reach underserved communities where brick-and-mortar locations might not be justifiable. It frees up resources so people like Lisa can partner with non-profits, provide financial coaching and help spur community and economic development.
“One phone call got the process started, and she had all the paperwork ready for me when I came home,” Price says. Price also refinanced the high-interest online loan and is saving hundreds in interest.
Price says he didn’t know about ACFCU’s mission until Botner filled him in. He’s certainly spreading the word about this new option for Owsley Countians.
|Unemployment remains stubbornly high in Owsley County.|
“I’ve told everybody,” he says. “It’s a good thing, especially for the people over there when there’s limited options.”
ACFCU’s commitment extends to financial coaching, combined with fair lending products, designed to help members stair step their way to greater financial health and stability, regardless of income.
“It’s been hard getting through to people that there’s something different,” Botner says. “At first people were confusing us with a payday lender. Getting people to understand we don’t just hand out money and charge you horribly high interest rates has been a challenge.”
Botner says she anticipated those challenges. “But word’s getting out, people are figuring out what we’re really about and we’re actually starting to earn people’s trust.”
(Jeff Keeling is director of community relations for .)