Entertainment insider looks to launch credit union
ATLANTA, Ga. — Georgia may soon add another pitch to its claim as Entertainment Capital of the South.
Aneesah Bray, a veteran of the music business, has launched a drive to establish an entertainment credit union in Atlanta. If successful, Backstage Entertainment Federal would become only the third credit union in the United States catering solely to customers within the industry.
And Georgia is ripe for the venture, Bray said. Last year, the state pulled in over $6 billion from film alone. That’s to say nothing of the soaring music and recording industry that has been rocking Atlanta for the past two decades.
Bray grew up in Los Angeles. Her dad is a saxophone player and her mother an accountant with CBS.
“Coming from Los Angeles, there is a credit union set up for the entertainment industry, and the same is true for New York,” she said. “In Atlanta, we’re overdue for a financial facility that really cares about entertainment.”
Bray’s start in entertainment began as a child. She played classical piano for 12 years. Then, at 19, music producer Chris Lighty brought her into the business and took her on tour.
“He introduced me to Ice T, and I worked under him for a little while, then moved to Atlanta,” she said. “That’s where I met Bone Crusher and managed him throughout his career.”
Bray, who currently serves as a manager in the music industry, said the idea of launching a credit union for the entertainment industry came to her after years of going on tour without handy access to a bank.
“We were with a local bank here, but when we went on tour, we had no place to deposit our money,” she said. “This was prior to banks becoming national.”
In 2005, as she and her artists were touring, she found they had no place to put the money they received after performances. She tried to affiliate with a national bank at that time, which worked well for a while until the bank was bought out.
“I started researching credit unions in 2010 and have been going forward since then,” she said.
Some of the basics in finance were already in her, growing up with an accountant mother.
“She showed me what to do with money at a very early age, and I’ve run multiple businesses,” she said.
As the idea progressed, Bray brought on others more familiar with the business of finance, but she wanted to keep the focus on the entertainment industry.
“Credit union boards are filled with people who are specific to that business, not necessarily specific to finance, even though they will have s finance person on the board,” Bray said
One thing she said she wants to do is use the credit union to educate those in the entertainment industry. There’s a need for entertainers to know what to do with their credit, how to build it, she said, and good coaching can mean the difference between an entertainer going broke and enjoying his or her success late in life.
While Backstage Federal will be based in downtown Atlanta, Bray said she is looking to have full-service ATMs in Alpharetta, Buckhead, Lenox and in south Atlanta.
Emme Wallis, business development coordinator for the local venture, said the institution will service only those in the entertainment industry — first-line entertainers such as actors, producers, directors, singers, musicians. It will also service those in periphery professions that contribute to the industry, such as craft service people, hairdressers, makeup artists, even material suppliers.
“There really is quite a market in Atlanta,” Wallis said. “There’s also a vested interest in keeping the momentum that the state has for the entertainment industry and growing the industry.”
The credit union’s charter calls for servicing an area 25 miles out from downtown Atlanta.
“What we have are these nondescript buildings that people don’t know are film or recording studios,” Wallis said. “And these exist in the city, north of the city, south of the city.”
Because it has a federal charter, there is nothing prohibiting the credit union from expanding farther out in several years, Wallis said.
“When you look at a potential membership, you’re really looking at everyone, from 9-5 employees working in corporate entertainment, the accountants, the attorneys, the business managers,” she said. “There’s really an amazingly broad scope of who is included in this charter.”
Bray cleared her first hurdle for the charter last fall by having the field of membership approved by the National Credit Union Administration, the regulator agency created by Congress which oversees credit unions.
Currently, the organizers are soliciting letters of support from entertainment companies.
The next phase of federal authorization is to show that the community supports this concept, which is the focus this year, Wallis said.
“They want to see that the Atlanta metro supports this idea, and that this is not just a great idea on paper,” she said. “Everyone who we’ve spoken to has been really excited.”
Wallis said one of the keys separating an entertainment credit union from a bank is that many people in entertainment work nontraditional hours in a nontraditional environment. Someone who works in film might work on four or five productions a year.
“They’re making great money, and they’re working really hard,” Wallis said. “But, when they go to apply for a mortgage, (the lender) says ‘Well, you’ve had five different employers in the past year. That’s not a stable income stream.’”
This makes it difficult to get through the usual milestones in life, buying a car, buying a home, Wallis said.
“Something that basic, credit unions can take a different look at because they’re oriented toward their members, and we’ve got all these great people on our board who can speak to the industry,” Wallis said. “They can see that if someone worked on eight or nine productions over the past couple of years, they’ve got a great employment history. They’re a great credit risk.”
BANKS VS CREDIT UNIONS
What’s the difference?
Credit unions are cooperative financial entities where members pool their money to provide loans and other products. Membership in a credit union is limited to those qualified to join under the institution’s field of membership.
Both banks and credit unions have deposits federally insured for up to $250,000 per depositor.
Unlike banks, credit unions operate as nonprofit organizations in the United States.
While there are slightly more credit unions than banks in the United States (about 7,700 credit unions to 6,320 banks), there is no comparison to assets. Navy Federal Credit Union in Virginia, the largest credit union in the United States with $66.8 billion in assets, would rank as about the 47th largest U.S. bank.
Below is a comparison of failures among banks and credit unions during the past several years.
2012 2013 2014 2015
Banks 51 24 18 8
Credit Unions 14 18 11 18
Sources: Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., National Credit Union Association