Nothing Foreign About What Makes Netherlands Branch Work

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SCHINNEN, The Netherlands — Running an overseas branch of Andrews FCU has advantages over heading an AFCU office stateside — you don't have much competition.

Lavern Jones runs AFCU's Schinnen branch in The Netherlands, which serves more than 6,537 U.S. military personnel, Department of Defense civilians, and their family members. "Our members prefer to bank with someone that speaks their language and understands their situation as a U.S. service member in Europe," explained Jones. "We have one other U.S. credit union and two U.S. banks in our area, and there are many European banks. However, the language barrier is difficult to overcome for many of our service members."

Even though military personnel are somewhat sheltered from the global recession living on or near a military base, Jones said they still face some of the economic challenges as their stateside counterparts-and they have to deal with the constant fluctuation of the local currency. "Our members are paid in U.S. dollars but often have to exchange or convert their funds into Euros to pay for rent, utilities, and dining out, for example. When the dollar is strong against the Euro, they have more buying power locally. But when it is weak, as it is now, their income buys a lot less."

Helping members manage through the language barrier and currency challenges makes the credit union a strong part of members' lives, insisted Jones. "They depend on us much more. They rely on us to help set up payment for their European bills, and provide financial education and money management counseling when needed. We serve as a financial stepping stone for many of the military families in the communities we serve."

Jones said running her branch requires giving members even more personal attention that they typical U.S. CU. "While our military personnel and family members are outside the U.S., we make sure they are being cared for as if they were home. We go the extra mile to make sure they receive the best possible member experience."

Jones, who has been the Schinnen branch manager for more than 18 months, has no trouble relating to her members' unique situation, since she previously served active duty in the Army. "I empathize with the members. I've marched in their boots, so to speak, and I think that helps me to better assist them through the financial pitfalls of moving to a foreign country."

Whether the credit union branch is located overseas or in the U.S., Jones believes that the key to successfully running the credit union is the same. "As I was told while I was in the Army, you must have passion for what you do. If you don't have it, don't do the job."

The $810-million Andrews FCU is headquartered in Suitland, Md.

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