PERRYSBURG, Ohio -- Imagine it's President's Day, most financial institutions are closed, and a college student really needs a check.
What to do? Well, if the student happens to be a member of St. Rose Parish Credit Union, he calls the manager then zips over to the credit union office. No real problem, since the office also happens to be in the manager/treasurer's home. If he's lucky, the manager's wife has just taken some cookies out of the oven and will offer him one.
With $1 million in assets and 300 members, SRPCU is one of the dwindling ranks of credit unions that reflect a more folksy, intimate era in the credit union movement. While the number of credit unions shrinks as the average size grows, some of these very small credit unions are not only surviving but also glad to fill their specific niche.
Frank Brahier, manager of SRPCU, doesn't collect a paycheck. Retired from the city police force, he's a volunteer who is compensated only--as allowed in credit union "space occupied" regulations --for the office area he provides to the credit union. He actually owns everything in the office except the computer and software.
SRPCU also has a seven-member board, three-member credit committee, and three-member in-house audit committee comprised of volunteers.
"When I get a loan I'll call [the loan committee] and we'll get together and discuss it. But usually I can do it the same day," Brahier explained. Although many area credit unions are 40% loaned out, SRPCU is running at 50 to 55%.
While many large credit unions encourage tellers to greet members by name, that's not really a problem at SRPCU.
"I do know most of them," Brahier said. "I know them by sight and I know their families. I've lived in this town all my life. I was on the police department for 30 years and I've been doing the credit union for over 20 years, so for the past 50 years I've been right here.
"A lot of people for a long time would come up to me in church and hand me $10 and say, 'Hey, Frank, put this in my account.' Now I'll tell them, 'Wait a minute. Would you please put that in an envelope with your name on it so when I get home I don't wonder who gave me that money?'
It's not unusual for a member heading home after work in the late evening to call Brahier to make sure he's home, then stop by. There's even a drop box on the front porch, the SRPCU equivalent of a night depository.
What accounts for the credit union's survival in a time when bigger is often considered better, and when the Toledo metropolitan area certainly offers other financial institution options to any consumer?
"Perrysburg is a relatively small community," Brahier said. "The credit union has been here for more than 50 years. Many of our members are parishioners and the children and grandchildren of parishioners. We haven't really tried to grow big. We've just stayed about where we're at.
"It's been more or less a family credit union. Membership is open to members of St. Rose's Parish and their families. So even though the children or grandchildren may attend a different church or have a different religion, they can be a member of the credit union."
If you join St. Rose church, hear about the credit union and ask Brahier why you should sign up, he'll probably point out the credit union is able to pay above-average returns on passbook savings --and yes, members still have passbooks. He doesn't want to cite specific figures because he laughingly imagines many people suddenly swarming in to join, but he said the interest is well above the one-half percent or so others are offering. He'll also point out the credit union still pays insurance on loans up to $30,000.
The hours Brahier works for the credit union each week vary. One day there may be no activity at all. The next day may be busy with three or four loans, frequent phone calls, and a steady flow of members stopping by.
"Of course, there's a lot of paperwork involved," Brahier noted. "We face all the policies and rules such as the Patriot Act, minutes of meetings and so on. We have to ask for a picture ID and we have to run credit reports."
He acknowledges that eventually the desire of new members for a financial institution that offers mortgages, credit cards, on-line banking, and other items expected on a modern services menu will eventually put the credit union in a crunch.
"We talked about that at our last annual meeting. We all agreed that at some point we will probably have to merge with someone. But right now, we're kind of holding on," Brahier said.