Masayuki Kinoshita was looking for more financial security when he walked into a local credit union last week.
Instead, he found himself confused when asked by a credit union employee about his religious affiliation.
Kinoshita is a member of the Buddhist Church of Lodi. However, he was denied membership at Financial Center Credit Union on School Street because he did not meet any of the requirements, such as being a member of the Stockton Catholic Diocese.
"I can see how they have qualifications for memberships," said Kinoshita. "But the religion part threw me when I saw it because I thought it was discrimination."
However, the credit union is able to legally accept certain members purely on their religious affiliation. Financial Center Credit Union is designated as closed-charter, meaning membership is limited to certain groups. Unlike community-chartered credit unions, which are open to anyone in a certain geographic region, closed-charter unions are only open to a very specific list of clients.
Michael Duffy, president and CEO of Financial Center Credit Union, a Stockton-based company with branches in Manteca and Lodi, said the person who assisted Kinoshita did not mean to offend and wasn't discriminating.
"This is a misunderstanding," he said. "Whomever they met with was probably going down the list of qualifications to see if they could be a member."
The credit union is open to employees of the county, Lodi Memorial Hospital, city of Stockton, city of Manteca and family members of current clients. Practicing members of the Stockton Catholic Diocese are also eligible for membership. The credit union also has a designation for Greek Orthodox members.
"If the Buddhists would like to be members, we would love to have them," Duffy said.
In order for a closed-charter credit union to accept a group it isn't currently designated to serve, an application must be filed with the state, he said.
"As long as they fill out the letter of interest and are in our market area, the state rarely says 'no,'" Duffy said.
Kinoshita did file a complaint with California's Department of Financial Institutions, but agency spokesperson Alana Golden said the credit union did not act illegally. There is only one other complaint similar to Kinoshita's in the agency's database during the past 10 years, she said.
If Buddhist Church of Lodi is interested in joining the Financial Center's field of membership, the leader of the congregation would first need to submit a letter to the credit union, said Golden. After that, the credit union would approach the state agency for review of its application. The credit union's list of approved members is monitored on a monthly basis, and adding a new group can take place rather rapidly once things come together, Golden said. The biggest hurdle would be ensuring that the credit union could handle the influx of new members, she said.
All credit unions have laws limiting who they can accept and serve, said Patrick Keefe, spokesman for the Credit Union National Association.
"Not anybody can join any credit union, but everybody can join a credit union," said Keefe.
Credit unions commonly offer designations that cover people who live, work and worship within a community. Credit unions having a partnership to accept members of a specific religion is not unusual, he said.
People of any religious affiliation can join Financial Center Credit Union, provided they meet one of the other requirements for membership. For example, a Hindu or Methodist who works at Lodi Memorial Hospital could join, as the hospital is a qualifying organization.
Kinoshita's application was denied because he didn't qualify for any of the other criteria, said Duffy, not because he is Buddhist.
However, if a family member of Kinoshita's obtains membership because they meet a stipulation, he would also be able to join because he's related.
Although he is disappointed he couldn't join the financial institution, Kinoshita said he would continue searching for the place that suits him best.
"I can always find somebody else," he said.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.