Listen to the article
“Rolling Rez” brings the bank to the people
At Lakota Federal Credit Union (LFCU), mobile banking has a much different meaning than what most people associate with their smartphones.
Instead of an app, LFCU offers member banking services with a bus known as the “Rolling Rez”.
The $ 9 million asset credit union in Kyle, SD serves the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which has a population of approximately 40,000, over 40% of which are 19 years of age or younger. It is the home of the Oglala Lakota Sioux.
The reserve covers two counties and over two million acres. It has nine districts, which are individual communities about 30 minutes apart.
LFCU took an important step this year by deciding to buy its own bus. Until now, LFCU has shared the bus in a partnership with Art Space, First Peoples Fund and Lakota Funds, some of the major partners of the credit union.
The new bus will significantly increase LFCU’s ability to serve members, said Shayna Ferguson, President / CEO.
“Right now we’re only going to Pine Ridge, which is the agency’s headquarters,” Ferguson said. “We only go there twice a month. This bus will allow us to go to the nine districts and go out every day of the week, not just twice a month. It’s huge.”
Meeting monumental challenges with regular and gradual steps is business as usual for LFCU, which serves one of the poorest areas of the country.
The credit union opened in 2012 as a community development finance institution. Ferguson was the first member services representative of the LFCU.
Today, the credit union has 3,300 members and eight full-time employees. One of the biggest advances of the credit union under Ferguson’s leadership is the ability to offer mortgages, which poses compliance issues as the homes are on reserved land.
“We’re leading the way with our mortgages right now,” she said.
“We have been through so much historical trauma, but we continue to strive to move forward.”
Even though it does add services, the main focus of LFCU is education, not just financial education. Many residents of the reserve are afraid of the government and everything they think is associated with it.
“When natives hear ‘federal credit union’ they’re like, ‘Oh no, what is that? “Said Ferguson. We’re not what you think we are.
The next step is to provide members with access to basic services. The credit union even helps members pay their utility bills.
These efforts can protect members from predatory lenders who come to the reserve, Ferguson says.
“There are still people who get payday loans and pay 35% interest,” she says. “If we can get our members to come here and get a signature loan with us at a lower rate – they need help with the propane or whatever – that’s huge. It is a question of education.
As a Native American, Ferguson says Native American Heritage Month is a source of pride for her and LFCU.
“There is pride because as an indigenous person there has been so much historical trauma that everyone has been stuck on for years,” she says. “But what the natives are doing now is huge. Credit unions open in different places. Like us, we are South Dakota’s newest chartered credit union and we are on a reserve. It’s huge.”