First Heritage Federal Credit Union
Our family helping yours
Business View Magazine interviews Thomas Pisano, President & CEO of First Heritage Federal Credit Union, as part of our series on American credit unions.
The First Heritage Federal Credit Union was chartered in 1954 by a group of ten employees of the Ingersoll-Rand Company in Painted Post, New York and, recognized by the National Credit Union Administration, was named the Ingersoll-Rand Employees Federal Credit Union. In 1974, it expanded its charter to include, not only Ingersoll-Rand employees, its retirees and their families, but also anyone who lived or worked in the Town of Erwin, New York, and thus, changed its names to the IR-Erwin Federal Credit Union.
In 1984, the Credit Union became a multi-occupational credit union, by recruiting a wide variety of member groups, businesses, and organizations under the name First Heritage Federal Credit Union. It also entered into several friendly and unsolicited mergers with other area credit unions including: Oak Federal Credit Union (Elmira Heights, 1983), St. Joseph’s Hospital Employees Federal Credit Union (Elmira, 1984), Taynton Employees Federal Credit Union (Wellsboro, PA, 1984), Corning Hospital Employees Federal Credit Union (Corning, 1985) and GTE Wellsboro Federal Credit Union (Wellsboro, 1985).
First Heritage became a community chartered credit union in December 2001, with the ability to serve all people who live, work, worship, attend school, or maintain a business or other legal entity, as well as their immediate family members, in Chemung or Steuben Counties, New York, and Tioga County, Pennsylvania. In 2004, it welcomed members of NYSC Federal Credit Union into the First Heritage family. They were followed by the Chemung County Federal Employees Federal Credit Union in 2006, the CCSD Federal Credit Union in 2008, the SSMH Federal Credit Union and Tioga Area Federal Credit Union in 2017, and the Hornell Erie Federal Credit Union in 2018. Today, First Heritage serves over 40,000 members, with 135 employees working out of ten branches: two in Tioga County, PA; three in Chemung County, NY; and five in Steuben County, NY.
“We are a full-service credit union,” says President & CEO, Thomas Pisano. “We offer most loan products that you would see in a larger financial institution – first mortgage loans, home equity loans, business or commercial loans, and auto loans. “An area that we really excel at in our market is indirect auto lending. We have relationships with local auto dealerships that provide the dealer the ability to offer our auto loans directly to their clients. In this case, the member can receive an auto loan from us without having to come through our doors or online portal. They are able to complete the entire process at the dealership and the dealership will work with us to get them the financing they need.”
Within First Heritage’s market there are many credit unions, community banks, and large commercial banks, but Pisano believes that First Heritage’s reputation as a true advocate for its members gives it an advantage over the competition. “We really aim not to just put services or products in our members’ hands,” he maintains. “We want to improve their financial lives by offering products and services that make sense to them, not to us. We work hard to consult and collaborate with our membership to help them understand the products and services that they might need – whether it’s a loan or deposit product. So, we try to understand our members’ situations. And then, we let them know what we think will work best for their financial wellbeing.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, First Heritage has displayed the same care for its employees as it continually does for its members. “We sent a large percentage of our staff who don’t interact with our membership home, very early on,” Pisano relates. “We’re an essential business, so we did keep our doors open to our members, initially, but we quickly realized that we had to make a change, so we went to drive-thru only, fairly early on. We did a lot of things to protect our frontline staff who handled member transactions. We created A and B teams, where the A Team worked one week, while the B Team was out, and then, we brought the B Team in and the A Team took the next week off. We were trying to do our best to protect our employees, knowing that there was a lot of stress on those who were still meeting with customers during an uneasy time. We wanted to give them a chance to refresh their engines for a week. We were very pleased that we made that decision. And I think the staff was very appreciative of that, as well.”
“We took this pandemic seriously,” Pisano continues. “Our crisis management team started meeting well in advance. In fact, we started meeting more regularly once we understood a first case was recognized in the State of Washington. We turned up the heat on our daily meetings, and we were meeting on weekends to make hard decisions. We closed locations when we thought there was a compromise with a COVID situation. In most cases, it was out of an abundance of caution – protecting our staff and our community. And we’ll make those types of decisions, going forward if we have to, as well. We brought some staff back, and we have a plan in place to start moving the rest back over a four-to-six-month period. But, that said, we’re monitoring the pandemic situation here in our local area, daily. And if we feel that we should pull back, we will.”
Some recent good news for the greater First Heritage community was the recent opening of the credit union’s newest branch in Corning, NY. “It’s a little more than just a branch,” Pisano notes. “It’s really a new corporate headquarters and a major investment for our membership, our staff, and our community. It’s a 27,500-sq.-ft. complex; the first floor is a retail branch, and the second and third floors are back-office departments that support our ten branch locations. The branch, itself, is a little different than you normally see in this area. It’s more modern looking, it has an open hall, and it provides opportunities for our members and our partners in different ways. We have a community room that we’ll offer for free to our business customers or youth groups, etc., to hold meetings. We’ve also created a technology bar equipped with iPads so our staff can teach our members how to use our technology, whether it’s online banking, electronic statements, online applications for loans – we can do that right in the lobby. We have a coffee bar, when COVID is over, so the members can come in for a cup of coffee. We have a self-service coin machine for our members to use to exchange for cash or to deposit in their accounts. We’ve also made the whole bank hall very warm and friendly; there are numerous places to sit and relax or collaborate.”
“And we’ve made it a real great experience for our membership” Pisano continues. “All the art within the building are photographic prints that our employees took. When we decided to find a way to provide art for our new complex, we ran a contest for our employees. We gave away some pretty nice prizes – three-to-five-day trips, depending on the category. We took all those prints and put them on our walls and we also have a large video board in our lobby, which rotates all those photos. So, we really did a lot of things that are community-oriented. That’s what we wanted to portray when we did this project.”
“We also have a great opportunity in this very large new building, because we have a lot of space in which to social-distance our folks, and we’ve done that,” Pisano adds, referring to even more COVID-19 safeguards that were implemented. “We moved them from where we originally wanted them to be when we planned it, to limit how closely folks are together. We’re taking all the safety precautions – we’re requiring masks within our buildings and we have sanitation stations throughout our branches. I think that our staff is appreciative that we went well above for their safety.”
Going forward, Pisano says that one of the things that the pandemic helped point out was the need to stay current regarding remote technology. “We want to advance our technology and make sure that our remote delivery services are state-of-the-art and that they’re meeting our members’ needs,” he states. “That’s the wave of the future and, obviously, COVID turned up the urgency a little bit more to make sure that we’ve got those electronic services for our membership. We want to continue to take every opportunity to help our members through this pandemic, whether they’re having problems paying their loans, which we have done from day one with skip payment programs or deferment, and really working with all our members in these very uncertain times. We don’t know what the next few years hold, but we want to make sure that we’re doing things for our members that will help them feel a little bit more secure in their financial lives. For a small credit union, we actually did a significant amount of payment protection loans for our business members to the tune of approximately $9 million.”
But even as remote banking portends to be the wave of the future, Pisano believes that there will still be a place for brick and mortar branch offices. “I don’t think that the branches will ever go away,” he intones. “Yes, our members love the electronic and remote services, but they want a branch, too – especially when they just need to talk to someone. We had significant traffic in our branches prior to COVID, and we think we will again once we get beyond this pandemic.”
“Another big thing we’re focusing on is how to capitalize on the movement away from cash,” he adds. “Throughout the country, consumers are not going to their credit union or bank to get cash like they did before, and they’re not paying for purchases with cash like they did before. I read that ATM withdrawals were down 22 percent since the beginning of the year but, in the same time period, debit card transactions were way up. So, we’re going to be focusing on providing the opportunity for our members to do their business with our debit and credit cards, knowing that the use of cash will probably go lower and lower as time goes on. Even for small transactions that were always done in cash, we’re seeing a shift to more credit and debit card usage.”
One thing that Pisano asserts will never change is First Heritage’s status as a strong community partner in the three counties in which it serves. “We engage in numerous community events,” he reports. “Our staff enjoy going to them and they go to them on their own time. It’s really what we’re about. In 2019, we had 123 employees at the end of the year. Of those employees, 46 of them went to six or more community events that were sponsored by the credit union; 16 did four or five of the events; and 21 did two or three of the events. So, we had a very high level of our staff engaged in the community.”
“We live our mission and vision statement every day,” Pisano says, in conclusion. “It’s our family helping your family. First Heritage is a great community partner that just happens to offer financial services. And we want to improve our members’ financial lives. That’s what we’re here for. We want to be a trusted advisor and we want to provide products and services that meet their needs. Because, at the end of the day, that’s what’s important to us.”
AT A GLANCE
First Heritage Federal Credit Union
WHAT: A full-service credit union
WHERE: Headquarters in Corning, NY
Communiqué Design & Marketing – www.communiquedesign.com
Communiqué Design & Marketing is a full-service, NYS certified woman-owned marketing agency located in Ithaca, NY. Founded in 1991 by Laurie Linn, Communiqué offers an integrated list of marketing services ranging from graphic design to public relations to digital marketing. Communiqué has been a proud partner of First Heritage Federal Credit Union for more than five years and would like to congratulate the credit union on the opening of its new headquarters
Member Business Financial Services (MBFS) – www.mbfs.org
Member Business Financial Services (MBFS) assists credit unions in funding business loans within their markets. We provide credit analysis, loan document preparation, relationship management, and loan servicing for credit unions as deemed prudent by our Board and in the best interests of MBFS and our credit union partners.