Before Enron or Global Crossing or Williams Communications, there was Commercial Financial Services.
It's easy to forget in today's economy, but CFS had perhaps the most spectacular rise and fall of "any" Tulsa company. And its founder, Bill Bartmann, got the criticism to match.
Three years ago this month, CFS shut down for good. News on Six reporter Steve Berg explains what Bartmann is doing today. Welcome to Bill Bartmann's neighborhood. Neighborhood Financial Center is his new venture.
NFC offers a wide range of financial services geared for the low-income market. A market that Bartmann says has been taken advantage of by other companies "Y'know you and I we go to the bank and borrow money at eight, nine, or ten percent these people have to buy money at 240%, and that's unconscionable." Where other companies take 10% of a check to cash it. Bartmann's company charges 1%. He charges as little as one-sixth to one-tenth as other companies for loans.
Along the way, he's helped pass a law that bans out-of-state loan companies from charging exorbitant rates. But Bill Bartmann as do-gooder? In the CFS debacle, he and others have been accused of everything from mismanagement to fraud. He himself says there are people in Tulsa that as he puts it, wouldn't spit on him if he were on fire. And yet the Governor has named him to the Oklahoma Futures Board. And the Oklahoma Eagle newspaper gave him its consumer advocacy award, which he says is virtually unheard of in the loan and check-cashing business. "Its history is taking advantage of consumers and here we are getting a consumer advocacy award."
Bartmann was a billionaire with CFS, might have been the richest man in Oklahoma, but he's also the son of a janitor and says he knows how tough it is living paycheck to paycheck. "Yes we have loan losses, we have people who don't pay us either, but 80% of the people do."
Bartmann says people have the wrong idea about low-income clientele. Kind of like their perception of him. "I think the people who like me are probably wrong, I think the people who don't like me are probably wrong, I'm just a guy." Bartmann's new company just had its two-year anniversary and he says they just turned a profit.
He eventually hopes to open 28 Neighborhood Financial Centers across the state.