The collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was a great moment in the history of human freedom, but it was the beginning of hard times for Andrews Federal Credit Union.
It "was a watershed event for this credit union," said Stan Kryjak, chief executive of Andrews Federal. "At our heyday we had 16 branches in Germany; now we have six."
The number of members has also slipped. Since 1992, membership has fallen 25% to 101,086, according to figures from Callahan & Associates, a Washington-based consulting group.
As military-based credit unions across the country consider their prospects in the wake of base closings, Andrews offers an example of how to find new markets to replace the ones that are disappearing.
Like many military-based credit unions facing a shrinking customer base, Andrews Federal's survival plan involves merging with other institutions, expanding its membership base, and retaining its current membership.
"I don't think we'll ever lose our Department of Defense roots," said Mr. Kryjak. "But I'd like half of our new membership growth to come from nonmilitary" sources. Currently, about 70% of the credit union's members are either active or former military personnel.
In its search for new blood, the Suitland, Md.-based organization is pursuing new groups of members with gusto, so much so in fact that it sometimes gets carried away.
Last month, for example, it asked the National Council of Savings Institutions - a thrift trade group long since merged into America's Community Bankers - to become a sponsor.
In a line that elicited smirks at the thrift group, the letter asserted Andrews Federal "is simply better than the banks!"
Despite this minor embarrassment, Andrews Federal has been adding new groups at a steady clip. Andrews has added nearly 50 small companies - businesses with fewer than 50 employees - in the past 12 months.
It has 135 businesses in all, and employees are hunting for new ones.
"We're actively contacting companies that are eligible for membership," said Bill Hofherr, marketing senior vice president for the $474 million- asset institution and, ironically, an ex-banker.
Andrews is also looking for new markets.
The first step for the credit union was the acquisition of the troubled McGuire Federal Credit Union in New Jersey. In addition to military personnel, the credit union's membership base included state employees.
Since then, Andrews Federal has beefed up its presence in the Garden State. For example, in July 1994 the National Credit Union Administration gave it the right to serve the 34,067 employees of Burlington Coat Factory who work or are paid from Burlington, N.J.
But that's not the largest membership expansion the NCUA has granted to Andrews Federal. In May 1994 the agency let the institution create a senior citizens association in Maryland. The group, called Mature Focus, has a potential membership of 190,000.
Mr. Hofherr said the credit union "doesn't spend a lot of calories" trying to penetrate that group.
And for good reason: after Texas banks sued the NCUA for permitting Houston-based Communicators Federal Credit Union a similar organization with 500,000 potential members, a federal judge ruled that such organizations violate the Federal Credit Union Act.
The NCUA has placed a moratorium on such expansions, and it is considering issuing a revision of the rules in September.
The credit union is working hard to hold onto its mobile membership, both at home and abroad, Mr. Hofherr said.
For example, the credit union is making it easier for members to use it by phone.
Andrews Federal long has had audio response; in June it added another line through which members could reach their Visa accounts. Two months ago it started an international 800 number that its members stationed in Germany could use.
"The challenge for us is when they (members) move to Texas or retire or move to another base, they'll decide that their membership is valuable to them," Mr. Kryjak said.