CU Leasing Space To USPS For Store; Asset Growth Like 'Mr. Toad's Wild Ride'

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In an unusual twist, Pyramid Credit Union is leasing new branch space to the U.S. Postal Service for one of its retail stores.

It seems only fair, considering it was employees of the Postal Service that gave the CU its life back in 1929, said Maureen Shields, marketing director of the $50-million Pyramid Credit Union. And, until last year, when the credit union expanded its FOM to include 17 zip codes, postal employees and their families were its only members.

"Pyramid got its start as the Tucson Post Office Credit Union,'' Shields said. As it stands, the board of directors consists of both present and former postal workers. In addition, recently hired CEO Ray Lancaster is a 17-year postal veteran.

For $1 a year, postal employees provide outgoing mail and retail services such as mailing packages and selling stamps to community (and credit union) members from customized counter space within the CU office.

"When you walk in, to the left is the typical financial institution and to the right are offices and a waiting area,'' Shields said. "The far corner of the right was going to be another office, but instead we set it up as a postal counter.''

Shields said the arrangement came after plans by the U.S. Postal Service to build its own facility adjacent to the new credit union branch were squelched just after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

To cancel the plan would have come as a huge disappointment to the residents of the isolated area who were looking forward to the new convenience. Shields said while the area is steadily growing, when plans were underway, it only had one grocery store, pizza restaurant and pharmacy.

"Not having postal services was a big pain,'' she said. "They had to travel 10 to 15 miles into town to the nearest facility.''

Since the credit union and its new lessee opened for business in late October, Shields said, operations for both have gone very smoothly.

While not an income-generator for the CU, she said, the benefits are mutual. In addition, the arrangement is just another example that separates credit unions apart from banks, according to Shield.

"We probably still have more traffic for the post office than we do for the credit union,'' she said, adding that she expects a new community education push and joint direct mail marketing campaign with the postal service will eventually even things out.

Since the CU expanded its field and within the last seven months, opened two new branches bringing the total to four, assets have already grown by $14 million. "It's been like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride,'' she said. "We were operating as a single SEG group and in the last year have taken on this incredible growth and new vision. There have been a few growing pains, but being a smaller credit union gives us the benefit of being nimble and creative.''

For example, she said, the CU has greatly benefited from its partnership with two other CUs-the three of whom share space at two locations.

"I know people thought is was unusual to have three credit unions in a competitive mindset in the same location, but it's worked out beautifully,'' she said. It's not unreasonable, then, that the CU expects to double its membership by the end of the year. Presently, it has 5,200 members, 219 who signed just last month.

Shields said the CU experienced a growth of 12 percent last year, most of which came during the last quarter.

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