The Task Of Balancing Wants Versus Needs

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va.-What members ask for, and what they need to improve their financial condition, are often two different things.

Those who work the front line can attest to that, including Dawn Everton, who runs the Newport News location of the $500-million 1st Advantage FCU, based in Yorktown, Va. That's why Everton makes sure she and her staff strictly adhere to the CU standard of listening to the member.

"We can't say it enough, that you have to read between he lines. Look for cues and listen for tips members give you. Because what a member is telling you they need may not be the answer to their problem."

That is especially true during the recession. Everton recalled helping a woman in desperate need of home repairs who wanted a loan. "She is retired and lives on a fixed income," Everton said. "But her debt ratio was so high we couldn't do the loan. Plus, it would have put her in a worse financial situation."

Everton listened to the member and learned she had a lot of equity in her home and that her mortgage rate was high. "We were able to bring over her mortgage, give her a lower rate, pay off all her debt, and give her money for home repairs."

What makes a good listener, Everton tells her staff, is being able to put yourself in the member's place and seeing the big picture, not the small request. "A lot of the time we can offer members products that put them in better situations."

To get members to open up, they have to feel comfortable in the credit union, said Everton, who said she tries to make her branch feel like a "second home. We make the branch cozy. We have Starbucks coffee brewing all day and members tell us they love the smell when they walk in. We have a comfortable waiting area and flat screen TVs."

Everton mixes up TV content so it is not always the CU's standard info reel running. She'll switch to CNN and local news. "Members get fidgety waiting and it breaks up the monotony. Believe it or not, you do something like that, especially when you have long lines, and members really appreciate it."

What they also like, especially older members, is not being caught by surprise when a CD matures and they learn rates have plummeted "That has happened quite a bit in the last two years with some of our older depositors," Everton explained. "Some have had 5% CDs . You really don't want them surprised to learn rates are so low."

That's why Everton's branch sets aside one night a month to call members whose CDs are maturing, including explaining the deposit market if that is necessary. "They appreciate the call," she said. "Sometimes they renew right over the phone."

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