Interview with Matthew Ellison – Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union

Updated on October 10, 2023

In today’s interview we have Matthew Ellison with the consumer lending department at Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union.

| Can you please introduce yourself and maybe tell us a bit about yourself?

<span style="color: #0d64ba;">| </span><b>Can you please introduce yourself and maybe tell us a bit about yourself?</b>My name is Matt Ellison. I work with the consumer lending department at Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union. So I’m involved in anything from unsecured loans, auto loans, and now solar loans. Though solar loans are a newer endeavor for us, since we’ve been doing lending for so long, we won’t have any problems incorporating it into our offer.

| Can you tell us how you came into this market, this company, and what is it that you do exactly?

I started in the banking industry by chance when a friend invited me to check it out. I’ve been with Affinity for the entire decade since. Working at a credit union has been great because of the collaborative and cooperative nature. We prioritize helping people rather than focusing on sales and commissions… we’re not here for pure profit. 

We have also ventured into the green lending space, collaborating with other credit unions and organizations to make it inclusive and accessible. It has been a whirlwind in the past couple of years, with a significant push for these initiatives. As a larger credit union, we aim to lead and support other interested credit unions in these efforts.

| What can you tell me about the company and its history?

We started off as the state capital credit union, catering exclusively to employees of the state capital in Minnesota, USA. Over the years, we have grown significantly and now operate around 30 branches throughout the entire state. What sets us apart is that unlike many other credit unions, we have expanded our eligibility criteria to include almost anyone who wishes to join. This makes us quite unique in the industry. 

To further broaden our reach, we established the Affinity Plus Foundation, which allows anyone to become eligible for membership by making a $25 donation. Of course, there are additional criteria to meet, but we strive to be inclusive and extend our services to as many people as possible. Our mission is to help people, and we have a dedicated team of employees who are passionate about fulfilling that mission.

| What does it mean to become a member of Affinity Plus Foundation?

Being part of a credit union is practical. When you deposit money in a savings account, it represents your ownership stake in the membership. The collaborative nature of employees and members working together to help and protect each other creates a wonderful environment. We prioritize our local communities, which is why we have many branch locations in Minnesota. This allows us to spread kindness, compassion, and care to those communities.

| And how big is your team? 

When it comes to our team, we’ve got a pretty diverse group. Right now, we’re working with a group of about 600 people. What’s cool is, a good third of them are directly involved in our consumer lending side of things, doing all they can to help our members.

As for Affinity Plus, it’s pretty awesome being part of a credit union that’s multi-billion dollars strong. We recently celebrated hitting a huge 250,000 members – having such a big community lets us offer a user-friendly app and really focusing on being present online.

And because we’re on the larger side of credit unions, we get to try out new stuff, offering products that some smaller places might not be able to. So, the size of our team and our membership base, they’re not just numbers. They’re key to us being able to bring the best we can to our members.

| And one of these new products is solar lending. Can you talk more about it?

At Affinity Plus, we offer two complementary loan products. One is a home equity loan, where your home serves as security. This option requires more time due to home evaluation, closing fees, and paperwork. The other product is a consumer loan that we developed to meet member requests. It has a maximum term of 15 years and a lower maximum loan amount compared to home equity loans. 

These two products are a bit like pieces of a socket set. The 8mm is just as useful as the 12mm. The question is what are you trying to accomplish.

With this option, we aim for a quick turnaround time, typically within 15 minutes, assuming all requirements are met. We use UCCs (Uniform Commercial Codes) to publicly establish our stake in the financed items, such as solar panels or recreational vehicles without formal titles. This collateral approach is simpler than the processes involved in home filing. By providing fast loans while ensuring member protection, we prioritize the collective well-being of our credit union community.

| Is this a loan that covers everything a customer needs, to get a solar system installed on their home?

In theory, yes! Besides paying for the actual solar system, our solar loan can accommodate additional costs related to panel maintenance, wiring adjustments, or even roof repairs. Depending on the expenses involved, we can easily include them in the loan. 

However, if the costs exceed what is feasible, we can explore other options like our home equity loan. We can be flexible with our members and find solutions such as having separate loans for solar and home improvements. The solar loan is designed to offer versatility, so if there’s enough funds available, you have the freedom to choose additional features like a battery system or other options that suit your needs.

| How long have you been involved in these solar loans?

The consumer solar loan has been available for approximately a year and a half, making it relatively new. I’m trying to recall the exact duration since we introduced the home equity loan, which has been around for a bit longer, but it’s still considered a relatively new loan product compared to others.

| And how well was the loan received, do you have a lot of people asking about it?

We have received a lot of excitement and inquiries about the consumer solar loan. In the past year and a half, we have processed over a hundred applications and generated significant interest. 

However, from our perspective, it is still a relatively small loan product. This is partly due to the challenges of obtaining panels and finding installers in Minnesota, as it is a newer market compared to states like California and Arizona. Despite these obstacles, we believe solar energy is the future and anticipate its continued growth. We aim to provide products that protect our members, as we have observed larger solar lending companies charging high fees. We strive to bring the same care and protection to our solar loan product and our members.

| Are you thinking about other products for the renewables market? Something like a wind loan perhaps?

In an ideal scenario, we envision having a comprehensive range of green lending products. This includes options like efficiency loans for purchasing energy-saving devices such as thermostats. We are committed to making progress in this direction, although it takes time to develop and implement such offerings. 

We aim to lead by example as a company and inspire our members to adopt sustainable practices through the products we offer. The challenge lies in identifying the specific needs of our members and keeping up with industry trends, which will ultimately guide us in shaping our product offerings.

| Do you have solar panels on your home? Are you planning on installing them?

I knew this question was coming :)

No, I haven’t done that yet, but I plan to do it soon. I have a friend who is becoming a licensed solar panel installer here in Minnesota, so I’m hoping to take advantage of that and get a good deal on a few panels. It would be great to reduce my reliance on the grid.

| What is net metering like over there?

Yeah, I haven’t personally experienced it, but I can share how it works in my city. It could be very different depending on which area you’re in, even just in Minnesota. The panels collect sunlight, which gets converted into energy that goes into the grid. In return, we receive a bill credit per kilowatt-hour generated by our panels. The goal being to have a system that generates enough to cover your full electricity bill!

| Yes, that’s what everyone is hoping to accomplish – produce enough energy so they don’t have to rely on the power grid so much! I think we’ve covered pretty much everything I wanted to talk to you about today. Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers?

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Yeah, I truly appreciate the opportunity to share my perspective. I tend to approach these topics with optimism because I genuinely believe in the positive impact they can have. It’s important for people to overcome their concerns and fears associated with change. From my personal experience, finding a balanced approach is crucial, much like driving a car and staying in the middle of the road. The future lies in various technologies that can help us sustain our energy needs.

Fortunately, there are many intelligent individuals working on these advancements, surpassing what we could have imagined even 10 years ago. The rapid progress in computer and cell phone technology serves as a testament to that. Who knows what other breakthroughs may come in the next decade? Perhaps even better solutions will emerge. Personally, I’m particularly intrigued by advancements in battery technology. The ability to store power efficiently and evaluate its environmental impact is a critical aspect to consider.

Of course, there’s still much we don’t know, and as a non-scientist, I eagerly await the discoveries that lie ahead. However, I firmly believe that lending a helping hand in providing loans to support these endeavors is significant.

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