NEW BEDFORD, Mass. -- For helping out a struggling underbanked community following the departure of a key business, the $400 million First Citizens' Federal Credit Union, with branches across southeast Massachusetts and Cape Cod, is winning widespread civic praise this month.
"This was a natural decision for us and important for this part of the city," declared Charles Simpson Jr. the president/CEO, in describing First Citizens' move in August to retain an in-store branch in a shuttered Shaw's Supermarket and then later relocate it nearby to help restore economic well-being.
From the CU's perspective, said Simpson, "it was a matter of keeping a commitment we made to the South End of New Bedford" considering First Citizens' opened its first branch in this historic fishing city in 1987.
The surprise decision by Shaw's, a New England chain, to suddenly close a large and "underperforming" grocery store in the South End stunned the community drawing concern among city leaders about further demise of the neighborhood made up in large part of Portuguese and Spanish immigrants.
Acting quickly to strike a deal, First Citizens' asked and won permission from Shaw's management to keep its in-store branch operating despite being housed in a vacant facility while more suitable, alternate space could be found.
Shaw's agreed to construct a special back-door entrance to allow First Citizens' members to gain access.
The First Citizens' branch in Shaw's had long been widely accepted "as part of the South End community doing about 16,000 transactions a month," noted a First Citizens' statement.
Last fall First Citizens' heard from the owner of a popular nearby restaurant about offering branch space in his building and sure enough in just three months, the CU negotiated a deal for the new branch to be fitted with drive-in lanes and ATMs.
It already has additional teller stations, conference rooms "and an ocean view."
The new branch was officially opened Jan 30 with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Feb. 15.
At the ribbon-cutting, New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang praised First Citizens' management for its community spirit, something "always uppermost in the mission of First Citizens' and is exemplified in its ability to offer a wide range of financial products and services and its initiative in bringing together other area credit unions to provide such services."
Lang mentioned mortgage products and low interest loans to stave off predatory payday lenders.
At the ceremony, New Bedford Councilor David Alves added his kudos presenting Simpson with a framed "Citation of Appreciation from the City of New Bedford" for helping protect the community.
First Citizens', which has its headquarters in Fairhaven, also announced that as part of its neighborhood commitment, it would make a $5 donation for each new account opened at the South End branch to Dennison Memorial, a boys and girls club in the area.
"In the end, we hope that this provides us with an opportunity to celebrate not only our commitment to the South End and New Bedford, but our commitment to quality service to each and every member," said Simpson. First Citizens', chartered in 1937 as a Bristol County CU, has 40,000 members serving a market area spanning from Seekonk to Cape Cod and the Islands, with branches in New Bedford, Raynham, Taunton, Falmouth, Hyannis and Orleans. --firstname.lastname@example.org