Move To Community Charter Is Just The Beginning

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Switching from being a single-sponsor credit union to a community charter is the easy part. Letting the new field of membership understand what that means is where the real work begins.

"The challenge is to make people aware of how great the credit union is compared to banks," said Connie Risher, manager of the $7-million Brewster FCU here, which serves 3,000 members. Because of the CU's long history serving only local railroad employees, many in the community still think they are not eligible to join.

In the 13 years since Risher was hired to manage Brewster FCU, she and her small staff of four full-timers and two part-timers continue to educate the public.

"There's a little paper that goes out to all the communities," Risher said. "We put an ad in there with our loan and share rates and stress the fact that as long as you live or work in the area, you can become a member."

The credit union is also turning to radio advertising to emphasize its membership policy. That said, business remains steady, according to Risher. The loan-to-share ratio is 58% and there is $800,000 in the net capital fund.

"Actually, we get quite a few new members each month," Risher said, noting that the BFCU's assets have grown between $3 million to $4 million since she arrived.

"Back then, we didn't have a lot of cash," she recalled. "We had the computers but we were very, very small."

The growth is also evident in the new building, several feet away from the old one.

"We were growing so much, we needed more space," Risher said. "This building has three offices, a board meeting room and four teller stations, plus a drive- through window."

The credit union was housed in a structure originally built in the early 1900s, when it housed a hardware store, before giving way to a restaurant and then to the credit union. Its biggest advantage was its location in a prime spot downtown. Before considering a move, Risher had to take care of bigger issues.

"I had no training," she said, explaining that the only employees there when she arrived were the support staff. "Fortunately, I have a couple of good girls here. We're all learning together."

To be honest, Risher said, "I'm basically a teller. I'm not the kind of manager who sits in an office. I like to get out and help."

She attributes the success of BFCU to the comraderie of the staff and their high-touch relationships with members.

"I think our strength is being a community credit union in a place where most of us grew up and most of us know our members," Risher said. "We're way down to earth here."

Besides all that, she said, members are getting a decent array of products and services. "The only thing we don't have right now is home loans...and we're not on the web, yet."

Beginning this week, Risher said, members would have access to debit cards. And, in time, she said, they will be able to get online. "It's just a question of when."

She said she and her staff have high aspirations for their credit union. "We'll be here (in the next five years)," she said. "I like things the way they are, but I know we have to grow."

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