COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Striking a balance between keeping long-time members happy, courting those in the 18 to 34 age bracket and reaching out to potential members might be an ambitious undertaking, but Ent Federal Credit Union has proven it can be done.
The credit union, commonly referred to as Ent, recently surpassed the $2 billion in assets mark. In large part, achieving that milestone came from the loyalty of members, said James Moore, Ent's senior vice president of corporate communications and development. Eighty-four percent of the credit union's more than 161,000 members consider Ent to be their primary financial institution for checking. The average duration of membership is a little over 11 years.
"They have, over the years, made very broad use of the credit union," Moore said. "We've seen them bring a lot of business to us during their different life cycles."
Ent recently received a boost to its member base when $90 million Decibel Community Credit Union merged with the credit union on Jan. 1. Decibel served more than 16,000 members. The merger aims to help Ent reach underserved markets in Pueblo County, said Charles Emmer, president/CEO. The credit union has started making inroads here with several launches and alliances. Less than a year ago, Ent rolled out its Credit Builder program as an alternative to payday loans to help members who may have gotten into financial difficulty and need a little support to get back on their feet. Based on the situation, Ent determines if an applicant might qualify for a conforming loan. So far, $2 million in loans have been distributed.
Another way Ent is reaching out to the underserved is through an alliance with Colorado Springs, Colo.-based America's Family, a nonprofit organization that works with employers to help employees who may not have bank accounts, transportation, day care or higher education. Still in the early stage, Ent's role is helping lower-wage employees to build strong and disciplined financial habits with a loan up to $500 that is paid back on a specific schedule. If that loan is paid off on time, an employee can qualify for up to $2,500 toward the purchase of a used car. America's Family works with local car dealerships and accepts donations while ensuring that the cars are safe, Moore said. Ent has already processed two loans through the partnership.
"We bring the credit underwriting, criteria and the ability to manage credit service," Moore said. "We're really trying to help them build their credit history."
Meanwhile, each year, Ent's board consults with management on developing a balanced scorecard that typically sets a target between 8% and 10% for asset growth. From there, management presents solutions on achieving that mark. The "new member component" always comes into play, Moore said. In 2006, the credit union came just under 11% in asset growth and added 2,000 new members.
"We try to balance the two," Moore said. "Growth has to come in both sectors." Getting on Campus
One outlet for that growth may come through Ent's efforts to woo younger people. With the average age of an Ent member being 46, Moore said the credit union has been working diligently over the last year to tap the 18-34-year old market. In August 2006, Ent partnered with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs to bring the Lion OneCard to the school's more than 7,800 students and 1,000 faculty and staff members. The card serves as university photo identification and allows access to library materials, student housing, athletic and performing arts events, shuttle buses and university meal plans. An option will allow the card to provide users ATM and Visa debit card services. So far, 500 students have received the card.
Ent has also partnered with Colorado College, a private undergraduate school with 1,950 students as well as the local school district to bring financial education seminars to the classroom.
"We've expanded to a youth audience from topics on first time home and car buyers all the way to making better use of online bill payment," Moore said.
Wanting to develop its personal and service interaction approaches between employees and particularly newer members, Ent underwent a re-branding campaign in 2005 that aimed to close the gap and changed the credit union's moniker to its one-name identifier.
"From my perspective, I think we've achieved what we intended to do," said Moore, who led the campaign. "We've raised the visibility of the credit union in the marketplace and engaged people who, because of what they assumed about us, didn't think Ent could be their legitimate financial resource."
This March will mark Ent's 50th year anniversary. In 1957, the credit union was established when a group of 30 Ent Air Force Base personnel pooled $602 in deposits to form the cooperative.
"We are excited to celebrate and build on a half decade of service to our members and further expand our offerings into new communities including Monument and Pueblo," Emmer said.
With 24 branches, one under construction and weather permitting, scheduled to open in June, Ent has capitalized on its community charter, in place since 1999.
"It reinforces what Charles said about loyalty of members coupled with volunteer leadership and the quality of commitment of paid employees," Moore said. "If we're not meeting member needs, they will take their business elsewhere." --firstname.lastname@example.org