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As some banks face crisis, a small St. Louis credit union focuses on community

St. Louis Community Credit Union President and CEO Kirk Mills (right) and Alex Fannoy, Senior Vice President of Business Services.
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Community Credit Union President and CEO of Kirk Mills, right, and Alex Fannoy, senior vice president of business services.

Earlier this month, Silicon Valley Bank's collapse marked the second-largest bank failure in United States history. But amid worry over the risk of a larger banking crisis, smaller financial institutions, like St. Louis Community Credit Union, are setting their sights on longstanding challenges in the industry.

The credit union is among the roughly 40 financial institutions nationwide with primarily Black ownership, and the only such bank in the St. Louis region. Compared to larger banks, said CEO Kirk Mills, the credit union doesn’t focus on growth from commercial lending.

Instead, its priorities include bringing in customers from areas that are “underbanked” — often in areas that are predominately Black and already grappling with the impact of historic disinvestment and racist policies that restricted lending and home ownership.

“We focused on urban underserved areas,” Mills said on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “We’ve talked about food deserts — there are banking deserts, right? These are the questions we asked ourselves … who are we leaving out? And that's what we push ourselves on. How do we include more people?”

Alex Fennoy, the credit union’s senior vice president of business services, pointed out that financial institutions must challenge the assumption that areas that have been underserved by the industry in past are still “inherently more risky” for investment.

“We've got data to prove that that's not the case,” Fennoy continued. “But if you don't step into it, and really begin to actually lend in those areas, then it's almost like ‘group thought’ — you go off of the fact that all of these other institutions aren't there [who say] ‘I haven't done it. So it can't work.’ And that's not been our experience.”

To hear more from Kirk Mills and Alex Fennoy, listen to the full St. Louis on the Air conversation on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

Listen to Kirk Mills and Alex Fennoy on "St. Louis on the Air"

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."