PORTLAND, Ore. -- With the myriad of charter evolutions underway in the movement, Providence Health System Federal Credit Union is among those that have found a way to grow its membership by focusing on a niche industry ripe with many untapped layers.
In 2006, the $68 million credit union's membership growth was more than three times the industry's average, said Cameron Dickey, president/CEO. PHSFCU boosted its membership from 10,999 in 2005 to its current 11,750 thanks in large part to changing to a trade, industry or profession charter in 2004. While the increase might not be astronomical compared to other comparable-sized credit unions, Dickey said the TIP charter has opened up a plethora of doors previously closed due to charter constraints.
"Our model is a throwback," Dickey said. "We are embracing the notion of the employer-based credit union. We're not trying to be all things to all people. There's a niche there that we can serve and still grow."
The CU's board feels that there should be "strong drivers" in place for appealing to current and potential members. Indeed, in 2003, services per member were 2.96% and jumped to 4.34% in 2004. Borrowing per member increased from 31.78% in 2003 to 43.69% in 2005, according to Dickey.
PHSFCU got its start as two "shoebox" sized organizations. The first one, St. Vincent Portland Federal Credit Union, was chartered in 1962 and the second one was created in 1969 as Providence Portland Employees Federal Credit Union. In 1997, these two credit unions merged to form the current one serving the employees of Providence Health System in Portland. Dickey said as Providence Health System grew, it moved non-clinical functions off the hospital's main campus. Some of the offices, while now moved outside of the city's boundaries, were still within the CU's field of membership, but accessing branches became a problem.
"We couldn't develop anything around them and that's when we considered expanding our charter to do that," Dickey recalled.
After conversations with Providence Health System about the CU expanding to serve the entire state of Oregon, the next step was to get the go-ahead from NCUA. In the midst of the discussions, Providence Health System's hospital in Washington expressed interest in linking up since there was no credit union to serve the 8,200 employees based there. At the time, TIP charters were still relatively new, but after doing some research on just how far the CU could expand its reach, particularly to other states, Dickey said they moved forward.
"Providence has office buildings that are leased to dentists and chiropractors but they're not employees. We realized that it would be smart membership growth for us to serve the entire healthcare community," Dickey said.
Today, the CU not only serves PHSFCU employees in Oregon and Washington, but has also developed relationships with non-employees at roughly 100 labs, elder care centers, private practice physician groups and other ancillary businesses in the health care community. Providence Health System has 28 hospitals, more than 35 non-acute facilities, physician clinics, a health plan, a liberal arts university, a high school, approximately 47,000 employees and numerous other health, housing and educational services not only in Oregon and Washington, but in Alaska, Montana, and California as well. Dickey said at this time, the CU's plan is to focus on expanding its presence and services in Oregon and Washington. There is a credit union that serves Providence in California, he added, Alaska has approached the CU and "there has been a dialogue" with Montana, but it's still in the discussion phase.
To accommodate the new fields of membership, Dickey said the CU has taken a "hub and spoke" approach by placing low cost, scalable service centers around the larger hospitals. Cash is handled through automation to make it convenient for members. Remote delivery channels are encouraged, but there is still a central area for lending and the call center. Four years ago, the CU rolled out its "Get Out of Line" suite of services promoting direct deposit and online banking, which has proved effective in making the self-service kiosks more popular, Dickey said. Using Technology to Reach Out
"We were one of the last credit unions in the $50 to $100 million category to introduce online banking. Today, when you look at NCUA data, we have the largest number of members using online banking in the state of Oregon."
Indeed, 63% of loan applications are done online. The 90-second loan approval feature on PHSFCU's Web site is so heavily used, Dickey said they're reluctant about turning it off to do any maintenance tweaks. Technology has certainly made it possible to serve more members under the TIP charter. The CU can now have a member fill out an application for a debit card and walk out the door with the card that day, Dickey said. The technology is still coupled with shared branching for those who remain loyal to the notion of face-to-face interaction. PHSFCU members have access to more than 200 shared branches and 73,000 ATMs.
"We know that there are people who still want to come into the branch," Dickey said. "What we've found is that the majority of people we serve are about what [the CU] is trying to be [in moving towards more automation]."
To build those relationships garnered through TIP even more, PHSFCU has two full-time, mobile member service representatives who travel within Oregon and Washington to help open accounts and process ATM and debit cards, for instance. These reps do not have an office, Dickey said. They are equipped with a wireless laptop and all the technology needed to help members across both states. It has certainly helped members who work non-traditional hours during the swing and graveyard shifts, Dickey said.
"You get more bang for the buck by bringing the credit union to them," he pointed out. "When we were designing the positions, we had very tight space restraints. This gives [the reps] the flexibility to be at home when their child would get home from school but also have the time to devote to members who don't work during 'banking hours,'" Dickey said.
PHSFCU continues to seek out every opportunity to grow its membership be it through its "How Did You Hear About Us" referral incentive program to its being there for new employee orientation meetings.
"We've struggled with getting someone to switch over if they have financial services at another place," Dickey said. "We've found huge success in getting that contact when an employee is in transit from one job to another."
Another way that PHSFCU has sought to grow its membership is tailoring marketing campaigns to its largest member base--women. Nearly 80% of the CU's members are women, a number that tends to mirror the health care industry, Dickey said. The average age of PHSFCU members is 44.5 years old, but the CU has heeded the urgings from regulators and industry watchers to court younger people. Two years ago, the CU developed a flash animation CD that featured the CU's products and services. Designed to appeal to teens and young adults, the CD also talked about PHSFCU's community activism.
To drive even more of Generations X and Y to the CU's Web site, PHSFCU launched its "Hot Ticket" contest. Members are issued a unique ticket number. There are five fields on the site where they can enter the number each month for cash ranging between $50 and $100. At the end of the year, there is a drawing for $300. Hot Ticket has brought in significant visits to the site and the entire promotion is "really inexpensive" at about $1,000 a year, Dickey said.
Meanwhile, many CUs have been able to grow their membership literally overnight through mergers. PHSFCU is not actively looking to be the "instigator", but there has "been a conversation that has unfolded gently" on future possibilities, Dickey said.
"We know that there is a climate of consolidation. We keep conversations open to others serving similar fields of membership," Dickey said. "We would not like to see smaller credit unions on the end of a SEG list." --email@example.com