Goal: Save Members $1M By End Of The Year

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CHANDLER, Ariz.-First Credit Union has a lofty plan for 2011: to save its members a million dollars or more.

As such, the $400-million credit union has launched its "Working to Save You a Million" campaign, targeting various ways members can save money with First Credit Union. According to Chief Operations Officer Lori Gallegos, one of the project's chief targets is inactive members who may have taken their banking business elsewhere.

"We've got money to lend, and with all that's been going on in the economy and the bad press that financial institutions are taking, we really want to get the public to think about credit unions, and First Credit Union, specifically, and what we're really here to do, which is look out for our members," said Gallegos.

While the credit union will emphasize the way its nearly 50,000 members can potentially save on products such as home and auto refinancing or the refinancing credit card debt, Gallegos said that even lower-profile products such as checking accounts are also a part of the program.

She acknowledged that, because of recent economic turmoil, there was a risk of seeing a flood of members with bad credit or poor loan repayment histories, and said that the CU's underwriting guidelines have tightened in the last few years. But, she said, First CU also looks at extenuating circumstances for long-term members.

"Perhaps, if it's strictly in the real estate area, but all their other payment histories are in good standing, we'll make some discretionary decisions," she said. "But a brand new person coming in the door that doesn't have that credit history with us, it's a little bit more difficult decision."

In addition, First CU is working on financial education for members and has partnered with Take Charge America for consumer credit counseling.

There are no specific low-rate programs to entice members, but the CU has been spurring interest by marketing the program in its branch offices, and is airing some local television ads. Additionally, she said, the CU recently revamped its website and has promoted the savings project to members through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

"Working to Save You a Million" was soft-launched in November, though Gallegos said the CU does not have any hard data on the program's success yet, and likely will not until the end of the first quarter of 2011.

First CU, however, isn't the first to attempt such a promotion. Global Credit Union in Spokane, Wash. started a similar campaign last June and was so successful that officials had to keep raising the target.

First CU's Gallegos confessed that her firm got the idea from their colleagues to the northwest, and had hopes to emulate their success-but she wasn't putting a number on it beyond $1 million.

"We're just working to save you a million, and that million can go on and on and on," she said. "Every time we hit that one million, it's another million, on and on."

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