A Reverence For Relationships Leads To Growth

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LANCASTER, Penn.-Over the next 10 years, the credit union formerly known as Mennonite Financial FCU is projecting it will exceed even the 15% to 20% average annual growth is has enjoyed over the last decade.

The key to the accelerated growth, the credit union said, is its new partnership with Mennonite Mutual Aid (MMA).

Mennonite Financial FCU and MMA have adopted a unified identity-Everence. The $125-million CU's new name is Everence FCU, and affiliated entities (formerly MMA) are now Everence Financial and Everence Financial Advisors. All of the Everence services-banking, investment, and insurance-are available under the Everence umbrella at www.everence.com.

"We have 16,000 members and MMA has about 80,000," said Everence FCU CEO Kent Hartzler. "This could get really interesting."

Everence is chartered to serve the Mennonite, Amish, and related denominations, which Hartzler projected total more than 750,000 eligible members nationally. "We are only scratching the surface in market share," he said.

The effects of the MMA partnership are already visible on the CU's growth, evidenced by adding 4,500 new members and $11 million in assets by joining with MMA last year on a health savings account effort. Yet a lot of the growth has come organically. Word-of-mouth advertising is very strong among the Amish and Mennonite communities, Hartzler stated.

"It has led to very solid relationships between members and the credit union. The CU philosophy and how the Amish and Mennonite practice community go hand in glove. It is not hard to sell the credit union."

EFCU also "ties faith with finances," according to Hartzler, through more than a dozen products. "For example we have a Visa that comes with a rebate permission to tithe some of our interchange commission back to the church and mission groups. We do things like congregation-secured lending. We have youth covenant savings accounts."

Another boost to CU growth will be the efficiencies and expertise gained by tapping into MMA resources. "The executive teams of the credit union and MMA have been combined but the boards are expected to remain separate," Hartzler said. "We will combine a lot of our corporate services such as marketing, HR, and IT. We are at a size that if we are to continue to grow at this pace we either have to build a lot of services and resources or buy them. Here was this large sister organization that already had a lot of the departments and resources we need."

EFCU is based in Lancaster with 10 other locations in Everence Financial and Everence Financial Advisors offices across five states.

EFCU expects to continue to at least double in size every four to five years. "MMA and Mennonite Financial had always served the same group of people with related products," Hartzler said. "Creating Everence positions more clearly and concisely the support members need, creating a one-stop shop for their financial services. I liken the approach to growth to going retro-to that old sponsor company relationship that many credit unions have shed in favor of a community charter. Leave it to the Mennonites to go old school."

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Growth strategies