SEFCU Goes To School on Growth After Bank Vacates Campus Office

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ALBANY, N.Y.-SEFCU has experienced double-digit member growth over the last two years and credits its presence on college campuses for much of the succsess. So when a local bank recently gave up its office at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the credit union moved to scoop it up.

According to Chief Marketing Officer John DeCelle, branches on college campuses drive membership growth up and the average age of members down. Despite having a broad charter, the $2.2-billion SEFCU also views every new college branch as another SEG.

"We take great pride in the presence we have developed on college campuses, as this will be our fifth location," said DeCelle, noting the CU has branches at the University of Albany, University of Buffalo, Skidmore College and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering's Albany-NanoTech complex. "About 30% of new members joining the credit union each month are Gen X and Gen Y."

HSBC maintained the branch at Rensselaer for more than 30 years. Once SEFCU learned the bank had opted not to renew the lease, it completed an RFP and was awarded the contract. The new location in Troy, N.Y. will give SEFCU 43 branches overall.

While SEFCU said it is difficult to track retention, since at age 25 students shift out of its college banking program into a standard checking account, growth numbers from the campus offices alone justify its presence, according to DeCelle. The Skidmore office has grown by 10% since it was opened, and membership at the University of Albany's location has increased by 220%. Rensselaer has 7,100 students and more than 500 faculty members. "This is another good growth opportunity," said DeCelle.

Not Enough To Just Open Doors

But DeCelle contends that the growth opportunity is only an opportunity if the credit union becomes involved in the campus and the college community.

"We are part of the orientation programs, we get involved with the athletic programs, we work closely with the student groups on internships and to provide mentors and speakers for classes, and we participate in activities and programs for students, faculty and staff. In general, we try to be part of the college spirit."

SEFCU also has sought to make accessing accounts as convenient and easy as possible, such as mobile banking and its new iPhone/iPad app that allows members to check balances, transfer funds, and locate the nearest ATM or branch and-soon-pay bills.

The credit union's Campus Connect account provides students with free, no-minimum-balance checking with a debit card, free online bill payment, free e-statements, and waiver of foreign ATM fees. SEFCU also helps college students get started on the "road to financial literacy," said DeCelle. "It's our commitment to help our members to not only feel confident when they bank but also learn how to better manage their money through free seminars, webinars, and knowledgeable staff."

DeCelle added that creating close ties with colleges also boosts the credit union's community outreach efforts, saying college campus clubs/groups are well known for the support they provide to charitable organizations. "The combined skills of SEFCU and students provides an even larger impact in the not-for-profit sector than either group can accomplish alone."

The office, leased from the college, is located in the Rensselaer student union and is being renovated to improve traffic flow and appearance.

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