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From the October-01, 2008 issue of Credit Union Times Magazine • Subscribe!
Centurion FCU Revives Personal Touch to Help Downtrodden Members
EVANSVILLE, Ind. -- For many consumers, a job loss, a slash in healthcare benefits or an emergency that cuts into their usual take-home pay, often means struggling to make loan payments on time. <p>At $26 million Centurion Federal Credit Union, some members line up to see a certain staffer because of his stellar service and empathy, said Kris Ploetz, president. He said he has seen it time and time again with Greg Geiss, vice president of lending, who has developed a soothing and reassuring rapport gleaned from 27 years of industry experience in CEO, lending and financial planning positions. </p><p>"Greg has that personal touch when someone is delinquent on a loan. He'll do whatever it takes within reason to make it work. On some occasions, he'll go knock on doors," Ploetz said. </p><p>Geiss said his intentions are clear: to help members build their financial future. For every $20 they make on a loan payment, he wants them to put $1 in their savings account. </p><p>"We want that for them. Unfortunately, members may have in mind what they want to do but it may not be the best thing for them," Geiss explained. "I look at each individual differently. It's not an assembly line loan arrangement."</p><p>That approach and others like it helped the credit union erase a 4% delinquency rate. Another loan officer was hired, terms were tightened, late loans fell below 1% and the loan portfolio grew to $18 million, Ploetz said. </p><p>After loans were cleaned up, business lending got off the ground two years ago. Property flippers and office buildings are now two growing demands, Ploetz said. The credit union has about $1.5 million in participation loans. Ploetz said he knows that at some point, the credit union will go stronger with business loans and is considering partnering with a local CUSO to make it happen. That's how the CU managed its student loan program and will be the case when it debuts 30-year mortgages.</p><p>On the investment and financial planning side, Centurion tends to see a lot of baby boomers. A group of 40 police officers recently retired and sought help with loan and retirement plan restructuring. Scenarios where widows are left behind to handle finances for the first time and new entries into the stock market are common ones, Ploetz noticed. </p><p>"We don't want them to have loans all their lives," said Geiss, who oversaw the first Plan America program in Indiana. That entity later became MEMBERS Financial Services. "We encourage [members] to have more on the assets' side. We're big on 'pay yourself first.'"</p><p>Even though the average age of Centurion's 3,500-member base is 45 from the police, sheriff and ex-military set, the credit union is aiming to expand its outreach to the 25 to 45-year old crowd, Ploetz said. A new Gold Visa rewards card, lines of credit and payroll deduction are a few of the lures to woo them. </p><p>"Generation Y is not interested in the loyalty factor," Geiss said. "They want it quick but we got to make them realize the importance of meeting face to face with us. With texting and going online, that's going to be our biggest challenge."</p><p>Centurion tries to walk that fine line between embracing the industry's changing dynamics and keeping a firm hold on why credit unions were formed in the first place. </p><p>"We've got to be that financial institution where they are not afraid to walk in and say 'we're having some problems,'" Geiss said. "One of our mottos is finding a way or making a way. That doesn't mean go outside of our policies. The key thing is when we earn their loyalty and trust, we will be the first they come to in good times and bad."</p><p>--firstname.lastname@example.org</p><p> </p><p> </p>
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