How A Kick From The Sponsor Group Booted One Small CU Into Action

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In just one year, Naheola Credit Union has boosted its assets by 33%, moved into a new building, added several new services and made plans to introduce ATM/debit cards to members.

The growth of the now $60-million credit union is being attributed in part to its adoption of a program offered by the Alabama CU League, "The Credit Union Commitment to Excellence Program (CUCE)."

According to the league, the CUCE program was launched as part of an effort to identify credit unions that, want to grow, while at the same time alerting other CUs of the need for growth. The ACUL identified 10 CUs under $50 million in assets as initial targets for the CUCE program. (At the time of introduction, Naheola CU was at $45 million in assets.)

"The main focus of the program is to guide smaller credit unions to becoming viable financial institutions by assisting them in becoming the primary financial institution for their members; assisting them to remain financially sound and secure; and guiding them in becoming full-service providers in both products and delivery," the league said.

According to board president Mack Barkley, the credit union began to reevaluate itself in 1998, when it was approached about moving its operations off of the grounds of a paper mill that was seeking the space for itself.

The credit union was chartered in 1959 as Marathon Southern Employees Credit Union to serve all employees of Marathon Southern Corporation Naheola Mill. Over the years the name of the 4,000-member credit union has changed several times to reflect the ownership of the mill, and in 2002 it changed its name to Naheola CU.

"With that initial thought, we started looking for a new facility, and then we saw an opportunity for other things," Barkley said.

As the credit union began the site selection process, it concluded that a new facility located near the mill site would not only offer a convenient location for current members, but also an opportunity to expand the credit union's service menu.

As the credit union began searching out land/building possibilities, they discovered that a new building located near the mill site would be a convenient location for current members and would also provide for expanded service offerings. At the same time it was finally making plans to break ground, the credit union also began to work under the league's CUCE program, including one-to-one training provided by League Director of Credit Union Development, Lisa Corvo, who led the credit union through its first-ever planning session in January of 2000.

That type of strategic planning session is one of the first steps of commitment that credit unions participating in the CUCE program must complete. The goal is to identify goals and objectives. For CUCE, byproducts have included a business plan, revision of all policies, a mission statement, and the beginnings of work in conjunction with CUNA's Project Differentiation.

"We want to be our member's No. 1 financial institution, so that they no longer have to go elsewhere for their financial needs," said Manager Sherry Carney .

That has literally meant not sending members elsewhere.

Until recently, Naheola Credit Union offered shares and loans only; if a member wanted to withdraw money from the credit union, they were issued a check to cash at their local bank.

In the eight days after the credit union moved into its new building, 90 share draft accounts were opened.

That new building includes three main teller windows, private offices for member loans, expanded services to include: cash-on-hand, checking accounts, safe-deposit boxes, three drive-through windows, night deposit, and the pending ATM services.

Naheola Credit Union has also begun roll out on a new image campaign and marketing campaign. The new credit union logo reflects the image of a railroad bridge with the tagline, "Naheola Credit Union.The Bridge to All Your Financial Needs."

The logo is tied to the Pennington, Ala. community, because the railroad bridge pictured in the logo is the main access road to both the community and the credit union.

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