Small Biz Takes Notice

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PALO ALTO, Calif.-Stanford FCU is benefitting from small business owners becoming more aware of credit unions as an alternative to banks.

That was the message from Celeste Auger-Munshi, the CU's director of member business services. When Credit Union Journal first reported this story in April, Stanford FCU had experienced slow growth in member business services in 2009 due to the economy, but Auger-Munshi expected much more activity in 2010 as interest picked up in the first quarter of the year.

"We have seen a lot of growth and activity," she said this month. "Even if it is not a new business starting up, people are questioning where they bank and are calling us about our services. Mainly people are coming from the larger banks because the banks have changed their pricing structure, and banking is more in the news through the economic downturn. More people are becoming aware they have options and flexibility."

In Search Of Better Service

Business owners are looking for better service than the "monotone version" they are experiencing, Auger-Munshi continued. She said most people are not "wowed" by their financial institution and want a personal connection, "which is where credit unions can do a good job."

"We assign someone to a new account so the owner has a personal contact," she explained. "If they use a branch they get to know the manager and assistant managers."

Stanford FCU is expecting a 15% increase in the number of business accounts year over year. Auger-Munshi said she believes this increased activity will continue into 2011 because the credit union has received a large number of inquiries about small business lending.

Businesses Show Strength

One big factor in the CU's favor: Auger-Munshi said not many businesses have been going under in its service area as a result of the economy.

"There have been a number of start-ups make deposits with us because they got funded," she said. "Our numbers might be smaller than banks' numbers, but we have grown in small business asset size. We don't serve just the high-tech industry, but a lot of that goes to the sector being relatively healthy. Companies that do anything with energy are growing and starting up right now."

To promote its business services offerings, Stanford FCU is concentrating on networking with different entrepreneurial organizations in its area, both on-campus and off-campus, she said. "We are getting our name out, letting people know what services we have to offer."

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