MANASSAS, Va. -- With a 133% population jump over the past five years and 300 new businesses forming each month in Prince William County here, the time seemed more than right for Synergy One Federal Credit Union to revamp its business services offerings.
The $199 million credit union has offered business loans for several years and launched a basic checking account for small business owners in August 2007. But Synergy is hoping a new line of products coupled with a renewed effort to build stronger alliances with area businesses will set the credit union apart from its competitors, said Linda Darling Rodriguez, director of business development at Synergy One.
Business owners in Prince William County and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park where Synergy One is chartered to serve will now have access to three new business checking accounts with two paying interest and dividends. The credit union has also introduced a business Visa credit card with rewards, more business loans, merchant card services and business insurance via its CUSO through Nationwide Insurance. Synergy One is also prepping to roll out ACH origination and payroll processing sometime this year.
"The huge advantage is we've been in Prince William County for 37 years," Rodriguez said. "We've given back, we're very involved in the community and we know that the business community here is huge and very tight-knit."
Synergy One's strong ties to the business community go back to August 1970 when it was originally formed as IBM Employees FCU. In April of 1972, the name was changed to IBM Manassas Employees FCU. When IBM was purchased by Loral Corp. in December 1993--before Loral's purchase by Lockheed Martin in January 1996--many of Synergy One's members became displaced. The credit union would eventually form partnerships with more than 130 select employee groups in the greater Manassas area. The Synergy One name change came in January 1994 followed by a conversion to a community charter in April 1999. Today the CU serves more than 27,000 members.
In expanding its business services, the credit union took a hard look at what its competitors were doing and sought out business owners for feedback. After comparing several checking account options, including their fees, perks, and transaction activity, it was clear that Synergy One wanted to bring something different to the table.
"The business checking account weighs heavily on [a business owner's] decision [in choosing a financial institution]," Rodriguez discovered. "We wanted our checking account to be extremely competitive and have lower fees. We can't be all things to all people but we do want to build relationships."
Prince William County, which is located west of Washington, D.C. and includes parts of Northern Virginia, is in the midst of a development surge. According to the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce, the population here grew 133% from 2000 to 2005. Businesses here also grew 47% during the same time period. Darling Rodriguez said up to 350 small businesses are setting up shop here each month. When Eli Lilly and Company moved into the area a few years ago, businesses sprang up. The company has since left and Covance, Inc., an additional pharmaceutical corporation, is scheduled to open a regional office here in 2009.
Synergy One's relationship with the Prince William County-Greater Manassas Chamber of Commerce has proven to be a strong one. Rodriguez serves on several of the chamber's committees where networking has helped the credit union to reach more small businesses. Synergy One is also in the process of building a branch in Gainesville with plans to offer the chamber office space free of charge.
Synergy One is also renewing its Community Business Partner Program after years of dormancy, Rodriguez said. Businesses that sign on will receive on-site membership registration drives, free financial education seminars, free lunches, special discounts and promotional offers, and a free link posting on Synergy One's Web site (www.synergyonefcu.org). So far, the program has attracted 30 active businesses. One of its biggest partners is Micron Technology, Inc., a provider of semiconductor solutions with nearly 2,000 employees. The credit union plans to set up an ATM on site and a Synergy One staffer will be there a few days a week to open accounts, cash checks, and help with the home-buying process.
"With the whole mortgage situation being what it is, some people just don't know what to do," Rodriguez said. "And the way the market is now in Prince William, home loans are a big concern."
Synergy One is also planning "Hoopla" open houses at its three branches. With "At Your Service" as the tagline, the campaign will feature staffers dressed in classy tuxedo wear presenting the new business services package.
Long-time members who have businesses will also share testimonials. The Hoopla events will target businesses that belong to the chamber, the nearly 350 new companies coming into the area each month, and those located within two miles of the branch.
"This is really our big kickoff and we're hoping it will get the word out about our business services," Rodriguez said.
Synergy One knows that getting small businesses to move all their accounts over can be a daunting task but the courting is worth it in the long run.
"It's hard for them to make that jump," said Rodriguez, who credits Synergy One's President/CEO William White for being open to doing more to reach the business community. "Sometimes, we won't be able to give them everything they want. There are different challenges that we face but there's so much potential for us to do well."