One CU's Five Successful Strategies

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SACRAMENTO-SAFE Credit Union has been able to expand in several areas as it has fought back against the recession, according to its CEO, Henry Wirz. Among the other initiatives that have worked well in 2010:

• A "Dream Room" promotion was staged in partnership with a local furniture retailer. SAFE had been running 30 real estate loans in its pipeline, but after the promo started the number jumped to 100. "This will help us sustain our real estate lending into next year. Homes are affordable again, which is a silver lining on the black cloud, and we exploited it."

• Seeking relief from loan losses, SAFE began offering auto loans with very low rates for members with FICO scores 800 or above. Wirz said it has had "almost no losses" from those loans, with the added benefit that the advertised rate has brought in a lot of business even if members do not qualify for the best rate.

• SAFE introduced a ladder CD that breaks up the member's deposit so that it matures in intervals of two or three years. "To get them into the program we give them a good starting rate."

• The CU's Refer a Friend program gives $50 to the member and $50 to the "friend" who opens a checking account. "This enhances our reputation and we always get a good number of new accounts."

• SAFE is part of Credit Union Direct Lending's Smart Fund program. If dealers meet certain criteria it can fund a loan almost instantaneously because CUDL changed the loan process to allow electronic documents.

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