NAPERVILLE, Ill. - Kenneth Bertrand doesn't call depositors at Allied Pilots Association Federal Credit Union customers or members.
Instead, the credit union's chief executive calls them "my guys."
That intimacy was earned during the weeks in 1993 when he spent days and nights hammering together the start-up credit union with its founding members.
Sleep wasn't lost in vain.
In its 16 months of existence, Allied Pilots Federal has racked up $16 million in assets and drawn 2,500 members. Also, by conducting most of its transactions electronically or by telephone, Allied Pilots has emerged as a leader in high-tech delivery systems. The credit union has no branches.
"We're kicking ass and taking names," said Mr. Bertrand, 38, in an interview at the credit union's tiny headquarters in a bland office park in this Chicago suburb.
Mr. Bertrand's journey to the top of Allied Pilots Federal began in July 1993, after he responded to a help-wanted ad in the Chicago Tribune that sought a credit union executive to help set up a new institution.
The ad was placed by members of the Allied Pilots Association, the union for American Airlines pilots. The group wanted to spin off from American Airlines Federal Credit Union because, though it was then the country's sixth-largest credit union, it didn't offer such basic products as credit cards and checking accounts.
At the time, Mr. Bertrand was the No. 2 man at Zenith Federal Credit Union, where he had spent all 12 years of his working life. The credit union's chief executive, Jack E. Fredenburgh, was "like a father" to him, but it was apparent he was not going to step aside soon.
Mr. Bertrand decided to make the leap, but realized it was risky.
"A guy from the NCUA told me I was crazy to leave the job to try to start a credit union," Mr. Bertrand said.
Indeed, the challenges were more daunting than those faced by many other start-up credit unions. For one thing, the members wanted a full-service institution immediately.
Also, because the pilots were scattered across the country, the members wanted high-tech delivery systems like home banking so they could reach the credit union from anywhere at anytime.
Mr. Bertrand and the founding members were able to cobble together a business plan acceptable to regulators. With a $2 million certificate of deposit from the Allied Pilots Association, the credit union opened for business on Jan. 1, 1993, with a 60-day loan promotion.
"It was important for us to do it from the first day, because we had to offer services to entice them," he said.
The membership has responded. So far, the credit union has pumped out nearly $14 million in first mortgages, vehicle loans, and unsecured loans.
The credit union has made loans for recreational airplanes, and recently made a $150,000 loan toward a $1 million boat.
"My guys have big toys," Mr. Bertrand said.
So far, no loan has been delinquent more than 60 days, he said.
About 70% of the members have a checking account with the credit union, which requires no minimum balance or annual fee and pays 1% interest. The checking product comes with a debit card, and the credit union grants four free ATM transactions before charging a $1 fee.
On the deposit side, the credit union offers regular savings accounts, money market accounts, certificates of deposit, and individual retirement accounts.
Foremost among Allied Pilots Federal's competitors is American Airlines Federal, where many of his members still have an affiliation.
"I don't care if they're a member of another credit union as long as they come to me when they want something," he said.
None of the credit union's business is done face to face. Loan applications are taken over the phone or through the credit union's PC- based home banking system. Deposits are accepted through the mail, direct deposit, or automated teller machines. No cash is kept in the office.
This arrangement works well for pilots, who frequently keep erratic schedules.
"We get calls from guys in hotel rooms at midnight," Mr. Bertrand said.
Allied Pilots Federal rolled out its home banking product five months ago. Since then, about 30% of the credit union's members have signed on. Besides checking their balances and transferring funds, credit union members can pay bills.
Paying bills on the PC system costs $6.95 a month for unlimited usage.
Relying on electronic delivery systems whittles the credit union's operating expenses. Allied Pilots Federal's ratio of operating expense to total income is 34.7%, about 30% less than its peer group.
Officials from other credit unions regularly drop by to look at Allied Pilots Federal's operations, and Mr. Bertrand is convinced that a the time is coming when electronic delivery systems will dominate.
"More personal computers than TVs were sold in the U.S. last year," he said. "I have a 5-year-old who gets on my computer every day."
Mr. Bertrand has high hopes for the future of the credit union as well. In five years, he expects it will have $50 million in assets and may easily grow well beyond that mark.
"This has the potential to be a $300 million credit union," he said.
Mr. Bertrand said the credit union's membership will not expand beyond the 12,000 members of the Allied Pilots Association and their families. Indeed, his typical member is a demographic type other credit unions would drool over - well-educated with a six-figure income.
Also, there is a good balance between older members who save and younger members who borrow, he said.
"I plan to stay here for a long time," Mr. Bertrand said. "We're just getting started.
"I love my guys."