Sun East, Keystone FCUs Join Together To Open Joint Branch

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AVONDALE, Penn.-Sun East FCU and Keystone FCU have opened a freestanding, jointly owned branch here.

While the two credit unions share the building and costs, they operate as completely separate entities, with individual staffs, branch managers, and IT systems. Respective signage appears for both Sun East and Keystone, and on-site staff serves only the members of their credit union.

Prior to opening, both credit unions, which serve distinct fields of membership and SEGs, as well as underserved consumers in the region, completed a detailed operating agreement over how responsibilities would be split. In the event that a potential member is eligible to join both CUs, the credit unions have pledged to attempt to split that pool of consumers as equally as possible.

The opening of the new branch was facilitated in part by a long relationship between the CEOs of each credit union, Christine Woods of the $76-million Keystone FCU, and Michael Kaczenski of the $429-million Sun East.

"Part of it was that we were looking to expand," explained Woods. "We're a bit smaller than Sun East, so for us to be able to make a new branch was a huge investment. We're always looking for ways to stretch our dollars."

The plan was hatched following a brainstorming session. To make such an agreement work, said Woods, requires compatibility. "You've got to have somebody whose philosophy is very similar," said Woods, who said both credit unions have a passion for serving members.

Sun East FCU currently serves more than 40,000, while Keystone serves approximately 7,500.

Kaczenski said that both credit unions "have a lot of the same shared feelings toward the credit union movement and what it should be doing, as well as the whole concept of cooperation."

"I have three bilingual tellers and all our branding is in Spanish, so [that consumer] would tend to gravitate more toward the Keystone side," said Woods. If that member preferred to join Sun East, she continued, "my bilingual staff will translate for Sun East folks."

In terms of assigning the respective costs for operating the branch, including utilities and office supplies, Kaczenski said that there is a 50/50 split.

But what if one of the credit unions should face a scenario in which it sees a significant decline in business? "That risk would exist whether or not we were sharing space," said Woods. "We do have some different strategic plans and outlooks, but we've also shared quite a bit of that with one another."

She explained that both CUs have pledged to help one another as much as possible. "This is a collaboration."

Both CEOs said that members were receptive to the arrangement in the days after the branch opened. Kaczenski said he hopes it will serve as a new avenue for the movement.

"This is a model that other credit unions can follow," posited Kaczenski. "But it truly starts with having a great relationship and that trust between CEOs. You couldn't just grab two credit unions that don't see eye-to-eye on things and do this. But for credit unions that believe in the movement and are willing to grow and share expenses together, it can truly work."

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