Arlo Washington’s journey to becoming the charter of the first new credit union in Arkansas since 1996 began with a simple need for a haircut.
As a young man, Washington worked as a barber in exchange for haircuts he couldn’t afford. It was while working in a barbershop that he observed the owner’s influence and success in the community and made the decision to become a barber himself.
Washington’s life took a difficult turn after the loss of his single mother to cancer in 1995. He moved to New York and tried his hand at being a fashion model and a barber, but struggling to make ends meet, he eventually returned to Little Rock to attend college. Using the proceeds from his student loans, he opened his first barbershop and it was successful. He soon opened more barbershops and even a barber college.
However, it wasn’t until the last payday lending storefront in Arkansas closed in 2009 that Washington truly saw the impact he could have on his community. Customers started coming to the barber college seeking loans and Washington realized that there was a need for financial services in the community.
He started setting aside $1,000 each month from the barber college’s profits to make low-interest, small dollar loans. This eventually grew into the People Trust Community Loan Fund, a not-for-profit community development financial institution.
Washington realized that the loan fund was not enough and many of his customers were unable to open checking accounts at traditional banks. This led him to the idea of starting a credit union, where he could encourage loan fund customers to open accounts and have access to financial services. However, starting a credit union is no easy feat and it has become even more difficult in recent years. There were only four new credit unions chartered in 2022, with just 25 chartered in the past 10 years.
Despite the challenges, Washington persevered and successfully chartered People Trust Community Federal Credit Union. He recognized the importance of financial services in low-to-moderate income communities and wanted to provide these services to those who were unable to access them elsewhere.