Updated: Monday, Oct. 22 at 4:43 p.m.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have delayed its initial rollout, but the University’s first-ever, student-run credit union is preparing to launch by early next year.
The GWU Credit Union Initiative, a student-run nonprofit coorporation that has been working to create a banking system for three years, is preparing to establish a credit union to help students and alumni save money. Senior Sahil Pankhaniya, the chief executive officer of the initiative, said the team has conducted almost 1,000 surveys over the past three years on undergraduate students’ financial concerns to learn how to help students bank cheaply, build credit and manage their finances.
“We’d like to have as many students as possible join the credit union, open accounts with us,” Pankhaniya said. “We’ve got great products, great services, great team of students that understand the needs of students. We’ve spent a lot of time surveying students to understand what students want.”
Pankhaniya said he and two other students first started working on the credit union’s foundation in 2017, and went on to win $5,000 in the 2018 GW New Venture Competition and an office space at a start-up incubator their freshman year. He said the team has since raised more than $690,000 in funds and committed deposits – an amount of money deposited once the credit union begins accepting students – from private donors and other credit unions, like SecurityPlus Federal Credit Union.
He said the raised funds will be used to cover filing fees, premium accounts like their website, banking fees and other capital requirements.
He said the group has expanded from three members to 21 since October 2017, each cross-collaborating in operations, communications, development and technology committees. He said the organization is also reaching out to student finance organizations like GW Women in Business to recruit more female students.
“I think in the hustle of things, we did not make as good enough of an effort at the beginning to be diverse,” Pankhaniya said. “And that has changed dramatically.”
He said the group had planned to secure an NCUA charter in May 2020, but the process was delayed after the University announced in March that classes would remain online. He said the team is in the process of submitting their finances and required paperwork to the National Credit Union Administration, the federal agency charged with chartering and regulating credit unions, for approval before officially launching.
Once the NCUA approves the credit union, the team will be able to open to students. Pankhaniya said the credit union will be chartered, regulated and insured by the NCUA and use many of the same procedures major banks and credit unions use nationwide, like using volunteers as the first point of contact for students who want to deposit money.
Sophomore Julian Daszkal, an analyst for the credit union, said the team has offered financial literacy workshops since 2018 to students, a program they are expanding into its own branch of the credit initiative. Daszkal said he and another student, Jacob Honig, worked with Colonial Central staff to integrate financial literacy programs like Cash Course to students, but the program is paused as the union prepares to launch.
“It’s the core values that our credit union initiative is striving for that has a purpose toward the community,” Daszkal said. “So we’re in the process of making a lot of presentation materials on and reaching out to various GW professors and faculty that can assist us in providing financial literacy programs to students.”
Senior Christian Trummer, the chief technology officer, said he is responsible for digitizing the credit union for students to access and deposit money remotely. He said his team contacts businesses that offer technology like automated lending services and obtains contracts to implement those technologies in the union.
Trummer said the team’s main hurdle has been proving to the NCUA their organization can “soundly” operate the proposed credit union.
“I’m an engineering student, and I am certainly surprised by how much my experiences here at the initiative have informed other projects I’ve tackled in my college career,” Trummer said. “I encourage any student from any school at GW to apply for a position at our organization, and I promise they will be pleased with the career opportunities they encounter after college.”
This post has been updated to correct the following:
A previous version of this story stated that the initiative formed after winning the New Venture Competition in 2018. It was created in 2017. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that the group is reaching out to GW Women in Economics. They are communicating with GW Women in Business.