Family Savings Credit Union – Not for profit, not for charity, but for service

October 15, 2020
Family Savings Credit Union

Family Savings Credit Union

Not for profit, not for charity, but for service

 

Business View Magazine interviews Monte Hill, President & CEO of Family Savings Credit Union, for our focus on Top Credit Unions in America.

The concept of a credit union is one where people have access to better financial services by pooling their resources and working together. For the residents of NE Alabama and NW Georgia, Family Savings Credit Union epitomizes that ideal. The guiding mantra behind this progressive, member-owned community credit union is that your money grows with you and your family, and ownership allows all members to prosper.

President & CEO, Monte J. Hill

President & CEO, Monte J. Hill

In 1951, these principles came to life in Gadsden, Alabama, when a group of seven Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Inc. employees each pulled $5.25 from their pockets and chartered Family Savings Credit Union (FSCU). Monte Hill, President & CEO of Family Savings, shares the backstory: “The Goodyear plant was in Gadsden, Alabama and those guys were the catalysts for what we are today. Family Savings was originally formed just to serve the Goodyear employees, and over the years, the Board of Directors expanded it to several branches, which originally were in cities where Goodyear had a warehouse or some type of operation. But they also brought in other employee groups. That foresight of the Board to expand has kept us in business today because the original plant that formed the Credit Union has now been closed.”

Since its inception, Family Savings has grown to over 65,000 members and half-a-billion dollars in assets. Yet, the founding mission is still intact: “Not for Profit, Not for Charity, But for Service.” Family Savings is dedicated to giving members a lower-cost alternative to the traditional banking system. Members, not profits, have always been, and always will be, the top priority, with a focus on providing state-of-the-art products and services backed by personalized member service.

Executive Vice President, Danny Varnon

Executive Vice President, Danny Varnon

Danny Varnon, EVP of Family Savings Credit Union, recounts, “A man named Bill Rutherford was on the early supervisory committee of the Credit Union. His grandson told me that in the first three years, they grew from the initial $35 they started with to a little over $3,200. At that point, one of the committee members said, “I’ve got to get off this committee, it’s all turned out to be way more than I thought it would be.” And this was with just $3,200! Now we’re over $500 million. So it’s been quite a journey. We currently have about 215 employees and nine branches (soon to be 10) spread throughout northeast Alabama and northwest Georgia in a 20-county area.”

As the name implies, Family Savings Credit Union treats its members and employees like family. Ensuring members feel comfortable when they interact with the Credit Union is key, whether they’re coming into a branch, or phoning the call center, or using the online call center. “We want to look at the whole picture in trying to help our members and see what others don’t see,” says Hill. “With the employees, if they’ve got a medical issue or a family issue, that takes precedence over their work life. We’ve expressed that over the years and we’re quite proud of it.”

Financial service being a commodity, similar products are available at most banking institutions – but it’s the exceptional member service that separates Family Savings from the rest. On the revenue side, its primary thrust is consumer loans, followed by checking accounts with the use of electronic services (mainly debit cards) that drive the remainder of the bulk of the revenue. Basically, the Credit Union is sustained by typical consumer needs from checking, to savings, to loans – as little or as much as they can afford to borrow.

That ‘little’ can be as much as $300 for a washing machine,” says Hill. “My dad worked at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. for 45 years until he retired. He opened an account at Family Savings for me when I was 10 years old, so I’ve been a member for 51 years. When I got married, my wife and I did all our banking there and I remember going over when I needed $200 for a refrigerator and without hesitation they gave me the loan. And we continue to do small amounts, right up to having financed an airplane or two. We’re really proud that we can finance our members’ needs, no matter what they are.”

When Hill started at Family Savings, he was the IT Director and he hired Varnon as a part-time operator in the computer room. Not surprisingly, technology has become an important focus of the Credit Union as it grows. Currently, they offer a full range of IT products and apps that allow transferring money, checking balances, mobile deposits, etc. through one’s smart phone. On the environmental front, the credit union is promoting paperless transactions and e-statements to members. And company employees are encouraged to do as little printing of material as possible.

Hill recalls, “It doesn’t seem that long ago when ATM cards had a $300 limit, regardless of their balance, because it was not interactive. And every night we’d upload a file of the transactions and post them to the members’ accounts. Now everyone has a debit card that works right off your account, and we offer a robust internet ‘Net Teller,’ where you can log in to do transactions. Early on, before the apps, we established telephone banking, what we call the dial connection, where members could do transactions over the phone. We thought four lines would be plenty and we quickly realized we’d have to quadruple that.” Family Savings now has 21 phone lines, the result of increased use of those “convenience” avenues during COVID-19 because lobbies are closed.

Back in March, when they originally closed the lobbies and just had drive-thru transactions and online and telephone products, the management team at Family Savings began to realize they could offer a plethora of services that don’t require members to physically come into the branch. So, going forward, will those lobbies become obsolete? Hill admits, “You don’t want to lose the personal touch and the interaction but so many people are now adapting to a different environment because of COVID. I envision much less traffic in the branch even when the lobbies are open as usual.”

When it comes to driving traffic to its branches and website, flexibility rules the Family Savings marketing strategy. According to Lesli Bishop, Director of Marketing for FSCU, “Our more recent marketing plans have included several touchpoints to reach our rural market areas – newspaper advertising, billboards, and some digital, including geofencing businesses such as auto dealerships, large employers and big box stores. Due to current market conditions, we have shifted more of our dollars to mobile and digital ads targeting highly populated neighborhoods where people may be working from home, and to home-goods stores where people are shopping to complete home-improvement projects. We’ve also increased advertising of our home equity and recreation vehicle lending products for those with home improvement projects and to give those who are tired of being at home, indoors, a recreation option such as a boat or camper.”

Geofenced mobile and digital ads give the ability to deliver specific ads to devices in areas where those products are most likely to be needed. Direct mail has also been a tremendous part of the Family Savings budget during the pandemic. “We are driving people to our centralized lending department by linking to online lending applications and encouraging telephone conversations with lending specialists,” says Bishop. “Members should not see a difference in our personalized service whether they are online, by telephone, or by mobile. We always want a consistent experience in all of these areas.”

Looking to the future, Varnon notes, “Our focus will be to continue to increase the share of the wallet to the point where we’re the only financial institution for our members’ needs – unless they have a really unique set of circumstances. So in 2025, I would love to see us be at a billion dollars in assets and at the rate we’re growing, we could be there in five years.”

Acknowledging that Family Savings is a member-owned community credit union, Hill asserts, “It’s one member, one vote. We have an annual meeting that’s usually attended by about 600 of our members and they’re free to bring up any subject they have a concern about. We also elect a Board of Directors who are all volunteers. And each member, regardless of the amount of money that have in the Credit Union, has the ability to vote on any business that comes up. We work to benefit the members, not stockholders that belong to the Board and have majority shares. We also have a supervisory committee made up of three elected members that oversee the operations from a financial standpoint. They hire an outside auditor to audit our books once a year and we also have regulatory examiners that come in once a year. That is the difference between credit unions, and us in particular, and a bank. It’s very much member-oriented.”

The overall goal is for one big happy family. That’s why the FSCU team goes the extra step to give customized advice and helpful service every step of the way. At Family Savings Credit Union, you’re not just a number, you’re part of a family that succeeds when its members succeed.

AT A GLANCE

Family Savings Credit Union

WHAT: Community Credit Union serving NE Alabama NW Georgia.

WHERE: Main office in Gadsden, Alabama

WEBSITE: www.familysavingscu.com

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