SEATTLE - Boeing Employees Credit Union is bracing for turbulence as its giant sponsor makes yet another round of cutbacks.

Last month, the Boeing Co. announced plans to trim 6,000 to 10,000 engineering and management employees. This thinning follows two years of deep cuts in production personnel.

The airplane manufacturer's latest move caught the credit union off guard, said Gary J. Oakland, president of $1.9 billion-asset Boeing Employees.

"There had been a sigh of relief over the past six months with a return of some confidence," he said. "This one seems to have hit a whole new group."

It was like a "left-right combination," he added.

But Mr. Oakland, an avowed optimist, believes the country's fifth- largest credit union will weather the setbacks. And rather than going into a defensive posture, the credit union is looking to expand its activities.

Mr. Oakland has more than blind faith to support his prediction that Boeing Employees will survive the storm; he can point to the credit union's experience in gliding through past cutbacks, including ones begun two years ago.

"To be perfectly honest, over the last two years we have lost 12,000- 12,500 people and it hasn't affected us effectively at all," he said. "Deposits were increasing, membership was increasing, loans were increasing, and delinquencies were falling during that time period."

Boeing Employees had been prepared for that round of reductions, which hit production workers. Even before cuts began, it held seminars on how to deal with a layoff.

The credit union is again rallying the people who hold the seminars, but the job will be more difficult this time. Production workers who lost their jobs could find other occupations with comparable salaries relatively easily, shielding the credit union from problems, Mr. Oakland said.

"We didn't go through the horrendous delinquency that might be expected," Mr. Oakland said, noting that yearend 1994's delinquency ratio of 0.3% was half the 1992 ratio.

But management and engineering employees, far better-paid than production workers, are likely to have a tougher time finding comparable compensation, Mr. Oakland said.

The aircraft manufacturer's intent to whack the positions quickly, as opposed to over a planned period, also makes things tough.

"These cuts are going to be quick and concentrated," Mr. Oakland said. "This round of layoffs is going to be difficult."

Mr. Oakland predicted an uptick in delinquencies and a drawdown on deposits. But the credit union, which has nearly 200,000 members, can absorb any foreseeable problems, Mr. Oakland said.

Because of that, Boeing Employees is trying to focus on helping members work their way through difficulty - and maintaining their financial relationships. The seminars are one example of that; another is a type of signature loan, the "health and welfare loan,"the group is offering to members who run out of unemployment benefits. Mr. Oakland said a small number of those loans have been made already.

This benign stance breaks from the credit union's past reactions to massive reductions.

In the early 1970s, for example, Boeing employment fell to 80,000 to 100,000 in two years. Making matters worse, the credit union required members to close their accounts if they lost their jobs. The experience put a strain on the credit union and created much resentment among members, both current and former.

"The credit union nearly went away," Mr. Oakland said.

Boeing Employees added a once-a-member, always-a-member policy after that ordeal.

In the early 1980s, Boeing chopped its staff to 50,000 from 80,000, "which basically was like getting rid of Seattle," Mr. Oakland said.

The once-a-member policy helped Boeing Employees soften its approach from the 1970s experience, but the credit union still assumed a bunker mentality.

"Before, we circled our wagons and said we're going to struggle with this," Mr. Oakland said. "We didn't go a long way to address the needs of our members. We're trying to do that now."

In another change, since 1992 the credit union has been trying to turn itself back into a lender. Boeing Employees had a high loan-to-deposit ratio 20 years ago, but it shied away from lending after the mid-1980s when it lost deposits to thrifts.

Also, some members were reluctant to borrow from the credit union, remembering what had happened in the 1970s, Mr. Oakland said.

The factors driving the change was an informal internal review of the group's lending practices that found they were outdated, and a desire to get higher earnings on loans than were coming in on investments.

In short order, the credit union relaxed some of its loan policies, found areas where it could manage more risk, marketed and priced more aggressively, introduced innovations to its credit card products, and in October 1993 introduced something it had never offered before: first mortgages, which had been considered too risky.

Boeing Employees' loan-to-deposit ratio of 48% is the third lowest of the 14 credit unions exceeding $1 billion of assets and well below the industry's average. But that's still better than 30%, where it hung some years ago.

The credit union hopes to hit 60% in a few years, Mr. Oakland said.

"We want to get there on an intelligent basis rather than buying the market," he said.

In another break from the past, last year the credit union began marketing to relatives of Boeing workers, Mr. Oakland said.

That provision had been in the charter, "but last year was the first time we did anything about it."

The group has no plans to widen its membership base between its relatively narrow confines. But it isn't shutting out the possibility.

"We recognize we're not going to get much more membership from the home base," Mr. Oakland said. "Will there be a need to look at changing our affiliation to a degree? That's something we're getting a grasp on. If its decided that's the future, we might have to do something relatively quickly."

New or old, members increasingly will be conducting transactions with Boeing Employees from their homes - or, at least, that's what the credit union is betting on. It only has two offices - one near the giant aircraft works, the other in Everett, Wash. - and doesn't plan to build any more.

"Only certain number of members can be reached with a branch because (Boeing) has three different shifts," he said. "If we can do this electronically on a 7-24 basis, we'll be better positioned for future when branches really will be" thing of the past.

The credit union has had an audio response system since 1984, and now every kind of loan transaction can be conducted over the phone, including mortgages, Mr. Oakland said. Last fall the credit union moved another step forward by introducing a PC-based home-banking system. Already 9,000 members have signed on.

For Mr. Oakland, offering such high-tech delivery systems isn't just a fad: It's a simple matter of keeping the members satisfied.

"Our members are highly educated and are on leading edge of technology," he said. "There's a willingness to use the technology and they push us to offer it."

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