New financial services to start in January

Institution will continue offering same tiered system personal loans, plus homeownership and business development coaching

MISSION – Nixyaawii Community Financial Services (NCFS), which will consolidate three CTUIR programs – home ownership, business development, and the credit loan program – should be up and running early in the new year.

Tribal members will still be able to borrow money, the same as they’ve done in the past, in the same tiered system that allows personal loans of up to $12,000. Most of the credit program loans in the first tier are from $500 to $3,500 and are mostly paid back using Tribal gaming dividends.

NCFS is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that will initially serve Tribal members, but once it is capitalized with enough money it could serve reservation residents and Tribal employees.

CDFIs are specialized financial institutions that serve geographically defined low-income communities and/or populations that lack access to financing. By the prescribed mission, the NCFS will improve the financial well-being of people in the Umatilla Reservation community through loans and credit, effectively to build personal assets and wealth.

NCFS will offer coaching and training for both homeownership and small business development, as well as youth and adult financial education and loans. New services and loans are to be developed in 2021.

“We’ll be able to offer a double approach with borrowing that drives other services such as budgeting, credit ratings, things to help folks accrue personal assets and wealth,” said NCFS Executive Director Dave Tovey.

Tovey will be joined by six others to work in an office whose location is yet to be officially identified.

Becky Cain, who supervised the CTUIR Credit Program, was hired in June as the Chief Financial Officer. Cain, who worked in Tribal Finance for 13 years, has “deep audit experience” and is a “stickler for details,” according to Tovey.

Cain already has developed draft loan policies, an employee handbook, and is structuring the accounting and financial management system.
Raven Manta, Program Manager for three years at Business Development Services at Wildhorse Resort & Casino, will continue in that role, as will Pamela Ranslam, who has been the Homeownership Program Manager in the Tribes’ Housing Department for 16 years.

Recently hired as loan officers were Tribal members Raven Cody, Doris Wheeler and Quincy George. Wheeler is the former Board of Trustees Treasurer.

Because of the all new staff and the high activity with November being a dividend month, Tovey advised Tribal members wishing a loan to get their applications in early to allow for processing.

Tovey said the NCFS will bring a new process, as well as a new philosophy, to the new program.

“It’s a weird thing in the CDFI world because the process is different,” Tovey said. “We never tell people they don’t qualify for a loan. We might say ‘Maybe not right now’ but we will provide maximum customer service, assistance, and make things work.”
Toward that goal, to help everyone, the NCFS loan system will immediately become easier and smoother, with even more efficiency in store when a new online portal is up and running.

The current credit program, which will remain in operation through the end of the year, operated with “clunky software” that is being replaced. The client database, which includes approximately 1,400 current loans, must be switched over to the new accounting system. Additionally, the new system will be taking on more data since, historically, there are typically some 300 loan applications per month.

After staff is trained on the new system, loans will be expanded to the internet portal. Tribal clients will also be able to see online the details of their loans, such as statements, when payments are posted, their balance and due dates. They also will be able to receive e-mail alerts about financial literacy and skills classes.

“It’s going to take a little time but there is light at the end of the tunnel for clients,” Cain said. “It’s going to be more simple and straightforward to achieve, far superior customer service than what they are currently getting.”

Further, Cain said, the NCFS will offer additional benefits – if Tribal members want them. For example, people who are interested in building credit can voluntarily opt in and allow NCFS to report data to a credit bureau so they can establish a credit score. That’s totally voluntary and is the client’s decision, Tovey said.

NCFS will offer a credit building loan with a potential program that offers a matching savings plan as an incentive to put money away. That program will require some budget and personal finance classes.

With a November dividend expected, loan applications will likely increase because that’s when many Tribal members tend to seek more money or refinance current loans.

“A lot of loans are small and people rely on their dividends to pay them back,” Cain said.

Tovey said he hopes that with more information about finances, some Tribal members might decide not to take out as many loans as they do.

“We have a high incidence of refinancing,” he said. “When loan balances go down people re-up on their loans. In the native CDFI world, and otherwise in the financial world, that’s kind of a concern when people get in a repeated loan environment. Loans cost money in interest and fees.”

Rather, he hopes, with other financial and budgeting information, people will be able to stretch their money without repeated loans.

The NCFS has been capitalized by a number of grants, including the Oregon Community Foundation that hired Cain, the U.S. Department of Treasury, and three grants over time totaling more than $400,000 from the Northwest Area Foundation.

Earlier this year the Board of Trustees approved a $2 million line of credit for the new CDFI to help fund new loan products and for office costs, which included the new data software system. Money used from the line of credit must be paid off over 10 years, the same terms under which the CTUIR Credit Loan Program operated.

Additionally, Wildhorse Foundation provided $20,000 for a summer youth entrepreneur program last year that included a matching savings option. Another such program was supposed to take place this year but COVID postponed it until, hopefully, the summer of 2021.
Additionally, in terms of money, Tovey is hoping the NCFS can obtain some of the CARES Act funding allocated to the CTUIR, for direct grants to small businesses on the Umatilla Indian Reservation. He said a proposal has been made to the CTUIR Board of Trustees that would provide money to small businesses because “building the private sector on the Umatilla Reservation is a high objective.” The details of that proposal, if it is approved by the BOT, were not divulged.

Also, NCFS is applying for new lending capital to launch new loan products in small business, home food (gardens, cattle, chickens, etc.), and credit building to complement the other developing services and lending products.

Tovey said the NCFS plans to start its programs with Tribal members and their families, because most of those services can happen without donor restrictions.

“As we grow to scale for other loans, there are others that could be served,” such as Tribal employees and their families, and reservation residents and their families,” Tovey said.

Business Development Services already provides coaching and training to non-Tribal members.

Tovey said he’s looking forward to the New Year when NCFS can start servicing loans and offering financial literacy and homeownership coaching for Tribal members.

He was quick to point out that the size of the loans are going to remain the same to begin with.

“As we grow to scale, we’ll be able to serve others and as our loan portfolio gets bigger it will have more impact with a larger financial return, but it’s going to be some time before we are loaning for home mortgages,” Tovey said.

Recognizing plans for new housing projects, Tovey said Ranslam at the Housing Department is “trying to keep pace” with families interested in building and/or purchasing homes. He said NCFS won’t be able to loan the money for homes, but the services offered can get Tribal members ready to obtain such loans from other mortgage lenders.

Ranslam said the NCFS is going to provide more financial options to Tribal members who want to own their homes on the reservation.
“We’re not ready to do mortgages but we can partner with other institutions and we can help get Tribal members into mortgages,” Ranslam said. “This will give CTUIR members advantages, offering more programs and products for homeowners that they don’t currently have. Tribal members have done phenomenally well in pursuing homeownership with limited access to land or homes, and really, in some aspects, mortgage programs. Definitely, there are Tribal members who desire to own their own homes and I think this CDFI is just going to propel that forward.”

Cain said NCFS hopes to be a resource for Tribal members to learn about as much as borrow money.

“The changes will allow for better resources,” she said. “We will be able to offer other programs. We can listen to what people want to accomplish and build future products to help them do that.”

The idea for a Community Development Financial Institution was hatched nearly 10 years ago with efforts from Kathleen Flanagan, who was Wildhorse Business Development Services (BDS) manager for 18 years, CEO Gary George, former BOT Vice-Chair Leo Stewart, and current BDS manager Raven Manta.

Flanagan, who now works as Senior Program Manager for the Ford Family Foundation in Roseburg, remembers that time.

“Participating in the Northwest Area Foundations cohort allowed me to learn about the operations of several Native CDFIs and to see how there were incredible resources on every reservation that we visited,” Flanagan wrote in an e-mail. “I started envisioning a CDFI on the Umatilla Indian Reservation that could be a one-stop shop for accessing capital, financial education, and small business development services that would be a tremendous asset for the community. I am excited to see the project moving forward.”

Manta has been on the CDFI project since 2014.

“I was part of the feasibility study team and that study showed our community would benefit greatly by building on to the already successful programs,” Manta said. “There is so much more opportunity to grow. CDFIs can help organizations address land acquisitions, consolidation, savings, homeownership, small business, and improve financial literacy … We have already built an already successful loan program – why stop there?”

Manta said she’s excited because the new NCFS will be able to create loan products that meet the community’s needs, such as a Christmas loan.

“The CDFI fills a market where the non-traditional lender will no or cannot,” Manta said.

NCFS achieved its non-profit corporation status from the IRS and the CTUIR Board of Trustees approved its business plan in February of 2020.

The NCFS Business Plan is governed by a seven-person board of directors appointed by the CTUIR Board of Trustees “with at least four of the seven board members” enrolled Tribal members.

They were appointed along with the NCFS corporate by-laws by resolution in February of 2019 and have met regularly since then. In the recruitment for the board, expertise and skill in certain areas was a focus, namely lending, fundraising, small business, accounting, children and youth education, and non-profit management.

The NCFS board of directors include:

Kelly George, NCFS President – Tribal Land Acquisition Coordinator; over 10 years in the banking industry
Aaron Hines, NCFS Vice-President – Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center Human Resources Director; former BOT Treasurer and TERO Program Manager

Jim Wallis, NCFS Secretary-Treasurer – former Tribal and Yellowhawk Chief Financial Officer; Tribal family; Reservation resident
Bobbie Conner, NCFS Member – Tamastslikt Cultural Institute Director; former SBA regional manager; board member Eastern Oregon University, EcoTrust, and Oregon Community Foundation

Sandra Sampson, NCFS Member – Board of Trustees Treasurer; former managerial roles with Wildhorse Resort & Casino and Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center; Health Commission and Water Commission

Gabriel Moses, NCFS Member – attorney working with the Native American Program Oregon Legal Services; born/raised on Umatilla Reservation

Judy Moore, NCFS Member – works for the Greater Eastern Oregon Development Corporation (GEODC) on homeowner support, loan processing, project management, and grant-writing.