Military-affiliated credit unions are mobilizing to support U.S. peacekeepers in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The institutions plan to extend services to the 20,000 U.S. troops attempting to secure a peace among the warring factions of the ravaged Balkan nation, and the credit unions will offer special financial counseling programs and special products.
"If they're going to be deployed for a year, a lot of things are going to come up," said Ronald L. Snellings, chief executive of $2.2 billion- asset Pentagon Federal Credit Union, which serves Army and Air Force personnel. "Not that they're going to go around Bosnia buying things, but back home there are going to be some leaky roofs and other things to take care of."
The Alexandria, Va., credit union hopes to open a temporary branch facility, either at an American base in central Europe - during the Persian Gulf War it set up an office at the American embassy in Saudi Arabia - or close to the troops at the front.
"We'll get as close as we can," Mr. Snellings said. "We want to set up something on the front line, but we don't think they are going to want to have a civilian in a DMZ between the different factions."
Alternately, the credit union might train military personnel to handle credit union business near the front, Mr. Snellings said.
Navy Federal Credit Union expects business to heat up at its branch at a Naples naval base. The Italian facility is a staging area for the Bosnia mission, and the Navy Federal branch is the only U.S. financial institution in the area.
The Department of the Navy has asked the $8.8 billion-asset credit union to provide services to all personnel at the base, regardless of their membership status. The institution has told the National Credit Union Administration it will obey its sponsor's order, Navy Federal chief executive Tom Hughes said in an interview.
Mr. Hughes predicted that Navy Federal's action might cause a feud with another credit union, but he insisted that the Merrifield, Va., institution isn't looking to poach the membership of other institutions.
"We're trying to help people who are in a jam where we're the only show in town," he said.
The credit union will offer nonmembers services such as selling travelers checks, cashing government checks, and providing Visa cash advances, wire transfers, and financial counseling.
Andrews Federal Credit Union, Suitland, Md., expects about 6,000 of its members based in Germany to be among the up to 30,000 troops who will either be on the ground in Bosnia or providing support. Some have already left.
"These are the kinds of times when you have to step up to the plate," said Stan Kryjak, president of the $492.4 million-asset institution.
To do that, the credit union's six branches in Germany have offered financial counseling and advice in setting up powers of attorney.
Andrews Federal also is allowing members stationed in Bosnia to use priority phone lines when they call the credit union for account information. The credit union also is offering 24-hour assistance to spouses left behind.
Pentagon Federal, which has $2 billion in assets, is offering financial counseling and helping members establish direct-deposit allotments to pay bills. It also is offering a 9.9% emergency loan with a 24-month repayment period to members who are participating in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization operation.
On a grim note, Pentagon Federal will offer members advice on preparing a will.
Pentagon Federal members will be able to conduct transactions with the credit union by telephone and by electronic mail over the Internet.