The Perils and Promise of Organizational Sustainability: The ADP Story

ADP protests at Bank of America

Boston   We had an interesting session with Caroline Murray, former executive director of ADP, Alliance to Develop Power, based in Springfield, Massachusetts about organizational financing and sustainability.  In her 18-year tenure with ADP as a community organizer focused on housing issues initially in a campaign to convert rental units being flipped over after 20-years of tax credits had expired, they organized cooperatives of tenants to purchase the properties and in the process stumbled onto ways that they could subcontract competitively to their own subsidiaries, save money for the cooperatives, build jobs, and, as importantly, create an income flow of $1 million per year providing 75% of ADP’s annual budget.  That’s quite an accomplishment and was right on point within the theme of our discussions at the ACORN Canada YE/YB!

As remarkable as that unique success, because believe me we spent a lot of time trying to figure out if it could be replicated which doesn’t seem possible currently in the exact same way, though privileging the base would come up with similar strategies, were some of the lessons Caroline shared from other projects.  We were all interested, as was she, in whether or not there was a way to produce similar results by coming up with a competitive and cost efficient way to assist our members in handling their remittance transfers.  Certainly we had looked at some options and a number of companies had pitched us, but nothing had ever seemed attractive.

There was then a lengthy “sharing” about the pitfalls of debit-type cards that had to be cash loaded for lower income workers and families.  We talked about Russell Simmons and his Rush card, and our inability to embrace its more predatory features.  We both had experiences with the pilot, elaborately funded by foundations through the Center for Community Change and directed by Janice Fine, to develop a card for worker centers.  We had several conversations during that period with Janice and some of her people while ACORN had been close to developing a similar product with H&R Block and the Block Bank.  Caroline and ADP had managed some of the pilots on the cards they had tried on the pilots.  At ADP they had achieved 700 users with pretty regular uploading, which seemed key, and were taking in perhaps $2000 per month on the program, but the servicing costs in staffing time and constant education, as well as the procedures, ended up not making it practical for ADP or profitable enough for the card company to continue with the pilot.

At different times we’ve tried to develop a product with VanCity, our credit union partner in British Columbia, particularly around the Philippines, where our other friends with TIGRE and Francis Calpotura, have also spent a lot of time.  We are still not close enough to a real program here by a long shot.  It’s the right idea but we don’t have enough horses to ride in the kingdom of migrant workers and immigrant families to really make it across the long, dry plains.

Despite Suze Orman’s Claim Prepaid Debit Cards Still No Good

New Orleans    Suze Orman has made her reputation as a TV financial advisor.  Now she wants to promote a debit card for low-and-moderate income families who have weak credit and want the ability to operate differently.  Her Approved card needs to be renamed as the Improved card, but it’s still not a good card, or at least not good enough for these times and this constituency.

Ron Lieber of the Times offered a helpful analysis of Orman’s new entry into this market and its impact on citizen wealth, but despite the fact that he seems to be bending over backwards, “vaporware,” as he calls the claim that credit giant TransUnion will actually use this data to qualify a customer for a real credit card, still seems to be the wrapping for this whole card.  A prepaid card is exactly that, a card where one a customer turns over cash in order to spend that cash with plastic rather than cash.  There have to be very good reasons for doing that, because, cash involves no extra fees, and these celebrity cards still cost money for questionable returns in a market that makes no sense unless it repairs credit or qualifies the consumer for something bigger and better.

Back with ACORN our team met extensively with Russell Simmons about his Rush Card.  We loved Russell and he had been a great friend, especially to New York ACORN, but the rap master had produced a rip card.  Promises were made and improvements were implemented, but the card still sucked, and it’s still sold in low-and-moderate income neighbors everywhere.

Orman will be moving on some other streets but it’s the same hustle it looks like to me with regular maintenance fees and transaction fees, even though there are ceilings that prevent going past the limits and some credit reports and credit reviews even though it is sound and fury signifying nothing.

If the point is something more than making money for Orman and friends, then what is the point of this for consumers.

None that I can find, and until then, if you have a little bit of cash, keep it in your pocket, rather than paying someone else to spend it for you.