To Add Members, Think ‘Bold’ and ‘Local’

Learn the secrets of five CUs that have experienced dramatic membership growth.

August 20, 2014
KEYWORDS growth , membership
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Empower Federal Credit Union in Syracuse has reaped the benefits of an aggressive growth plan following a 2007 merger of equals that produced economies of scale.

Since then, the credit union has developed 3,200 select employee groups through a large business development staff, a strategy that had been abandoned by rivals.

Jim Reynolds, Empower FCUAlso, Empower Federal relied on census data and member demographics to open new branches near concentrations of potential and existing members during the recession, when other financial institutions were pulling back from brick-and-mortar investment.

The credit union’s commitment to risk-based, nonautomated lending paid off during the Great Recession, when “we didn’t have highs or lows,” says Jim Reynolds, senior vice president of operations. “Lending reviews every credit report, and really believe in C, D, and E lending and character-based lending. The philosophy has been that 'bad things happen to good people.' We focused on advertising that differentiation.”

Fueled by a tremendous referral rate by front-line staff, Empower Federal is adding about 16,000 members annually. It will reach 140,000 members by the end of 2014—twice the total of Empire Federal Credit Union and Power Federal Credit Union when they merged.

Thanks to a strong cross-selling culture rooted in a three-week training course for new employees that focuses on needs-based sales, the credit union maintains a 2.96 products per household ratio.

“We grew into ourselves, if you will,” Reynolds says. “We’re definitely firing on all cylinders.”

Managing that growth will be Empower Federal’s biggest challenge. The credit union aims to leverage technology to develop efficiencies such as self-service delivery channels so it can continue its tradition of strong service.

“We’re comfortable going up against anybody, based on how we deliver member service,” Reynolds says.

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