'Getting The Faith,' Auto Program Both Boost Loans

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Credit Union: TopLine FCU

Nominated by: Lending Solutions, Inc.

Nominated For: Indirect Lending Program

Lending is every credit union's lifeblood, but for some institutions the pulse beats more quickly. For TopLine Federal Credit Union, that tempo has reached a feverish pitch thanks to several initiatives.

TopLine, based in the Minneapolis suburb of Maple Grove, became a community credit union in 2002 after 67 years of serving members of the Twin Cities telecommunications industry, says Michael Edwards, TopLine's vice president of lending and administration. Like so many conversions to community charters, the move was critical to help the credit union grow, Edwards said.

The new charter also would be vital to helping TopLine ramp up its lending program. Edwards and others had "gotten the faith," so to speak, after attending consultant Rex Johnson's University of Lending in 2001. Along with input from Lending Solutions Inc. (LSI), the credit union was ready to take Twin Cities borrowers by storm.

For TopLine, one of the best avenues proved to be building a direct lending program with area auto dealers, said Edwards. LSI's 24-7 lending solutions, instituted in July 2002, offered members online opportunities that extended the credit union's normal business hours by making loan applications and approvals available around the clock, she says.

Auto dealer involvement further revved up the volume, Edwards says. It also raised a competitive spirit among credit union executives.

"When you see a car you like, you want to take it home that day," said Edwards. "Our goal was to turn those indirect loans in 10 minutes. If the borrower came in with clean paper, it was a done deal."

Thus far, the strategy has worked, says Edwards. The indirect lending program grew 25% since it was begun 18 months ago and shows no sign of stopping. Of course, neither does Edwards.

One of the software's most innovative applications still involved auto lending, but on a much more personal and consumer-driven scale.

TopLine is the loan provider of record for Carsoup.com, a Minneapolis-based online used car market where buyers and sellers come together to exchange cash and vehicles without dealer assistance. Buyers still need loans, however, and TopLine has the inside track on the market, Edwards says.

Buyers and sellers doing business on Carsoup.com who need financing often arrange it through TopLine and the transition is handled much like a mortgage closing, says Edwards.

Both parties come into a credit union branch and exchange appropriate paperwork as required by the state of Minnesota. Once a TopLine loan officer is satisfied that everything is in order and the seller is the vehicle's legal owner, a check is cut, the sale consummated and everyone walks away happy, including the credit union says Edwards.

TopLine also has used the LSI system to link up with area recreation vehicle dealers, Edwards says. Now the credit union is able to make loans for recreational vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, even jet skis around the clock and with great success, she said.

"We just do loans and make sure our members and the community is happy," Edwards says.

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