PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- When General Electric Company started a series of downsizings in the mid 1980s and into the early 1990s here, Greylock Federal Credit Union faced some hard choices on how to continue surviving.
The $943 million credit union was founded by 15 GE employees under the name Pittsfield G.E. Employees Credit Union, which was chartered in 1935. Over the next five decades, the relationship grew stronger with Greylock taking pension checks through direct deposit and broadening its membership to also serve past and present employees of three GE-affiliated companies. When GE began to downsize, Greylock changed its field of membership to Berkshire County in April 1994 and changed to its current moniker. The following year, Greylock applied for and received a federal charter.
Fast forward to 2007 and the credit union that once operated from a desk at an old GE plant has soared to and remained at the top of several member service rankings. According to Callahan & Associates, Greylock is ranked number one in level of product and service usage by members, value of deposit services and rates, and value of loan service and rates for credit unions in the $500 million to $1 billion asset size category as of March 31.
"We don't have a stock ticker to tell us how we are doing. We have stories from our member-owners," said Angelo Stracuzzi, president/ CEO of Greylock. "The success of this credit union is a tribute to the hard work of many people over many years, taking care of one member at a time."
Greylock serves 62,000 members and each one uses nearly three products, Stracuzzi said. The credit union is in the top quartile in its marketplace when it comes to deposit rates, he added, a move made possible due to having lower overhead costs and running efficiently. Loan rates also surpass Greylock's competitors, which include 10 banks and 11 credit unions in the area, Stracuzzi said.
"We've learned to live at a slimmer margin without affecting safety and soundness," he explained. "We're also accepting less in earnings for a reason. Earnings translate into capital. If you're a cooperative, stockpiling capital is not in the best interest of the member. It should be returned to the member."
Greylock's loan portfolio, for instance, includes a wide array. As of July 31, mortgages commanded $459.6 million of the portfolio, making it the top home loan lender in the county, while auto loans topped the $115 million mark and business loans approached nearly $90 million, according to the credit union. Its robust Small Business Administration lending program has made Greylock the top lender in Berkshire County here and eighth in Massachusetts.
"We started business lending eight or nine years ago. These loans are about startups or for [business owners] looking to strengthen what they have," Stracuzzi said.
Financial institutions of all kinds continue to vie for market share, but Greylock's penetration has been strong. In a population base of 135,000 in the county, 62,000 belong to the credit union, Stracuzzi pointed out. Membership spans across 32 cities and towns over a 55 mile radius. Greylock is working hard to keep pace by continuing to offer convenient access to branches and ATMs. It currently has 12 branches, 16 ATMs and six insurance agencies, the latter having paid out $15 million in premiums, Stracuzzi said.
With all the strides Greylock has made, membership growth has been "modest", but word of mouth has helped the credit union to woo its newest members. The local newspaper's "Best in the Berkshires" reader poll has ranked Greylock the best financial institution in the area for the seventh consecutive year, Stracuzzi said.
"We try extremely hard to live up to our motto--'member owned, value driven.' We will treat everyone better than they expect," Stracuzzi said. "Employees really want to do what's best for the members. Not everyone buys into that and they move on but for the most part, we've been very successful with the staff we have."
Stracuzzi has seen service from both sides of the fence. Prior to arriving at Greylock 15 years ago, he spent 17 years of his career at a stock institution. As CEO of the credit union for the past five years, he strongly advocates a formal "contract" created that lists all that will be offered to members: lower loan rates, higher dividends, lower fees and overhead costs. Titled "manage for the member," Stracuzzi said at the end of the day, members are the "stockholders."
"I know all about stock institutions. They're concerned about the stock owners and nothing against banks--I understand their mission," he said. "But we return the 'stock' back to member-owners."
Daniel Egan, president of the Massachusetts Credit Union League, gives kudos to Greylock for the reputation it has built over the past seven decades.
"[Greylock] has once again been recognized for its unique status as a superlative consumer-driven institution," Egan said. "The growth of Greylock is in direct proportion to the value the credit union provides to its membership and the communities it serves."