Linda Williams, president/CEO of the $20 million Akron Firefighters Credit Union in Ohio, is a headliner at this October's National Coalition of Firefighters Credit Unions for good reason.
By all accounts, Williams represents a common-bond CU in this fiercely member-loyal clan that has come of age in 2010 to perfect new marketing skills and forge a positive new community image.
"We're glad Linda is on our program to relate how a small credit union has succeeded as a marketing innovator, reaching out to an expanded member base but never forgetting the roots of her credit union," explained one of her peers, Grant Sheehan, retired president of Miami Firefighters CU and the coalition's executive director.
Akron's low-cost car magnet and decal promotion, "I Love My Credit Union," and Web remake might seem like small potatoes in some locales but the ad campaign has given the Ohio CU unprecedented exposure and a $5 million new deposit payoff.
"We have built a brand that has created a buzz throughout our community," said Williams, who will be the opening workshop speaker at the Firefighters Coalition Conference. A record 180 people are expected to attend the conference, scheduled for Oct. 3-6 at the Omni La Mansion del Rio in San Antonio.
"Given the economy, that kind of attendance demonstrates the robust growth of many of our members," said Michael Mastro, president of the $889 million Los Angeles Firemen's CU.
Williams said she expects to explain in her remarks how, linking up with CUPromos, a local marketing firm that provides low-priced branding materials, put her CU on a path to expand its base to all first responders. That has meant emergency, medical, utility and police employees have been joining the CU.
"Now we get calls from people saying they noticed our car decals all over Akron and Canton and wanting more information about the credit union," said Williams.
Williams, who is married to a fireman, said her CU has also chartered new territory as a financial counseling center helping its members cope with the recession's impact on consumer finances. The CU has a certified financial counselor on staff so "we can understand and relate to what are members are going through."
The push for community outreach by firefighter CUs has gone far beyond Akron, coalition leaders said.
In Connecticut, for example, the $57 million Waterbury Firefighters FCU is today posting healthy profits and has a positive image after undergoing a near-death struggle for survival more than six years ago.
The crisis focused on an "insolvent" community taken over by the state in a "financial emergency" as Waterbury drastically cut payrolls, including firemen's.