Community Charter, Involvement Pays Off For One CU

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KINGSPORT, Tenn.-The secret to Eastman Credit Union's success requires a short trip down memory lane, according to CEO Olan Jones.

Founded more than 70 years ago as a credit union for Eastman Chemical including the Eastman Kodak company-the CU became a community-chartered institution in 2005. At that time, said Jones, Eastman was the CU's only source of members, and with the company actively downsizing, "we embraced the community."

Six years later, the community charter has "done everything we expected it to do and more," said Jones, whose CU has been a peer leader with its 10.85% average annual growth rate. "We added more members in a five-year time period than we added in nearly 70 years of existence as part of Eastman."

Chief among Eastman's strategies upon going community was becoming actively involved in the community. "We went from making zero contributions to over $300,000 per year in charitable contributions to the community," said Jones. "We make material contributions each year to a broad spectrum of entities that improve the quality of life in all the areas we have members."

ECU has 22 branches in five states, serving 123,000 members with more than $2.3 billion in assets. Not only has the credit union been actively involved, employees and board members are also encouraged to take part in a wide range of community-based activities.

Having one of the nation's largest non-federal student loan programs and a first-time home-buyer program with financing up to 105% has also helped. "We're now at more than 120,000 members, and only about 20,000 of them were originally associated with that sponsor company," he said.

Jones also credited member business lending as helping entrench the institution in the community. "We've done municipal partnerships that allowed strip centers to come in-Target and Kohl's-based strip centers. We've really in every way conceivable stepped up our effort to engage the community, and it's been incredibly successful."

Not surprisingly, Jones is quick to suggest community engagement as a key strategy for growth, regardless of whether or not a CU has a community charter.

"Get all of your employees involved in community work, whether that's charitable or otherwise," he said. "Our loan officers, our branch managers, our lending personnel, our senior executives are all meaningfully involved in the communities in the five states we're in. We match charitable contributions with that focus on the community and we try to understand the needs of groups making a difference in the lives of our communities. We've done all sorts of things over the years themed around that-but we also target the markets that present the best opportunities for growth."

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