A checking account that pays a dividend each month is one of the business-friendly offerings from Three Rivers Federal Credit Union, a $530 million institution that has been around long enough to carry NCUA Charter No. 159.
Created in 1935 for International Harvester employees in Fort Wayne, Three Rivers is quietly building business in the area's commercial community, now numbering about 300 businesses among its 80,000 members.
That includes Lan-Con, whose electrical contracting activities depend on Three Rivers for credit cards, checking accounts and credit lines and, coming up next, payroll, said Office Manager Robbin Spade.
"There's really nothing we can't get from them that we would need from a bank," Spade said.
Lan-Con currently has about 30 employees and concentrates on commercial and industrial new construction and remodeling projects. Despite the ragged economy, business has been steady, the company said, and its owners credit the credit union for helping.
"They've really been involved in our growth as a company, and helping us increase our line of credit has helped us grow further," said Jobie Connelly, Lan-Con's treasurer.
As far as business practices go, "nothing has really changed," said Linda Smith, Three Rivers FCU vice president. "We're very conservative. We look at businesses like we always have-at things like collateral and credit scores and cash flow. From that view, things haven't really changed much."
What has changed is the range of products the credit union can offer.
"We're now working to create more awareness of our business banking," said Karen Roebuck, Three Rivers' sales manager for business services. "We're a full-service division, with checking, savings, loans, lines of credit, credit cards, ACH and business bill payer. We have everything they need."
The ability to add and integrate increasingly diverse and sometimes complex services-such as relationship pricing for individual and business members-relies on the flexibility of the technology infrastructure deployed by the credit union, in this case the Complete Credit Union System from Open Solutions Inc.
The Connecticut-based company is seeing increasing interest in business services from its clients, and its spokesman said now is the time for credit unions to strike.
"Right now there's this general feeling that nobody is lending, that there's nobody out there to do business services with these companies," said Mickey Goldwasser, vice president of communications and marketing.
"While times are may be tough, this is really the time when credit unions can separate themselves from the pack," Goldwasser said.
He said the development of open core systems has allowed credit unions to quickly catch up in terms of what small businesses need from their bankers.
"Credit unions are now getting into things that banks have been doing for years," Goldwasser said, "but from a technology standpoint, anything that's needed to help serve a business member is already built into the system."
Credit unions also can have a natural advantage when it comes to competing with banks for the business of businesses-their personal relationship with members. For instance, Lan-Con's president, Andy Langohr already was a longtime member of Three Rivers when he and his partners turned to the credit union for financing to help get their new company started several years ago.
Jobie and company secretary Jamie Connelly also are members now, "and when you have these personal relationships with members, it's a natural fit for them to look to you for their business banking, too, if you can serve them," said Smith, Three Rivers vice president.
Smith and Roebuck each left a large bank to join the credit union and said they enjoy the opportunity to help set Three Rivers apart with products and with personal service.
Roebuck, for instance, is known for dropping by her members' offices with coffee and chocolate, "and we know she'll call us back that day if we have any questions or concerns," said Jobie Connelly. "I feel very comfortable with Three Rivers. None of us really knew who our bankers were before."
But bankers know Lan-Con.
"We do work for banks here in town and when I mention to them that we use Three Rivers, they kind of frown on that," Langohr said. "But we're still working for them."