Talk into any American Heritage Federal Credit Union office in the Philadelphia area, and you’ll quickly realize what the phrase "American Heritage" in its name means.
Every branch has five or six historical documents posted on a heritage wall. An item may be a document signed by John Quincy Adams or George Washington, a letter from Herbert Hoover, a piece of china Eleanor Roosevelt used in the White House, an original "I Love Lucy" script signed by Lucille Ball or Martin Luther King’s autograph.
Documents like these rotate from office to office every four months so members coming in see something new. Even if you’re using P.A.T., the personal automated teller with two-way interaction to a human representative, the logo on the machine is a man in Colonial-era costume.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the credit union is headquartered in history-rich Philadelphia that sparks the historical focus. But like other credit unions, American Heritage offers services the Founding Fathers couldn’t imagine.
P.A.T. is a good example. When P.A.T. was introduced at Aria Health’s Torresdale campus in Northeast Philadelphia last year, it was the first in Pennsylvania. While this one was at a sponsor company, the credit union anticipates using them in branches to expand locations and boost convenience without increasing the number of employees.
"It’s phenomenal," said President/CEO Bruce K. Foulke. "They don’t have to take 10 or 15 minutes to drive over here to the main office. One member said he could never come to our office because he lives in New Jersey, which is the opposite direction. Now he can talk to a service representative, deposit a check, get coinage, obtain statements and so on. I think this is definitely going to be the future of branch operations."
Each branch is unique, he continued. One, which serves primarily members of modest means, is among American Heritage’s most modern locations, featuring high-touch, high-tech and high security. Another branch, at the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, serves an entirely different demographic.
But each office also offers some consistent features. You will be greeted and directed to the appropriate spot. If you’re there to make a deposit, you won’t have to fill out a deposit slip. The teller will take care of that for you. While you’re in the queue, you can endorse the back of the check on a handy tabletop without losing your place in line.
When Foulke joined what was then Budd Workers Federal Credit Union in 1979, it had a single sponsor, one office, four employees and $4 million in assets. Today the credit union has reached $1 billion in assets, has 337 employees and operates two wholly owned subsidiaries–American First Abstract and CUSO First Heritage Financial, which provides mortgage services to more than 40 other credit unions. Foulke also spearheaded the establishment of Member Business Financial Services, a business lending CUSO owned jointly by American Heritage and 11 other credit unions.
That doesn’t mean Foulke and the board don’t have any worries.
"In my opinion some legislation–interchange fees on debit cards, credit card interchange fees–is devastating," Foulke declared. "We’ve been very fortunate and 2010 was a good year. We got into commercial lending. We pumped a lot of money into mortgage loans. We usually hold 50% and sell 50%. We had a strong auto loan promotion, encouraging members to transfer loans they had elsewhere."
"But I’m concerned about 2011 and about legislation. We don’t know. I think we’ll do OK, but we have to keep on our toes."
In fact, they've been keeping on their toes in many senses. American Heritage was named a winner in the Philadelphia Business Journal/United Health Care Healthy Workplace Competition. Foulke himself never takes the elevator to his third-floor office. He uses the stairs. Within the staff, there are Weight Watchers, line dancers and a group that walks two miles on Fridays. The Red Cross stops buy to offer blood pressure and body mass index checks.
Foulke stresses the need to treat employees well, an effort that won a best places to work award from the Philadelphia media. Each month employees receive a "State of the Credit Union" report to keep them posted on what’s happening and how American Heritage is performing.
"I have a lunch group three times a year," Foulke explained. ""I invite people from various levels of the credit union and ask them what’s going on. They can ask questions and offer ideas for making the operation better."
"I care about people. I care about the little guy. I’ve seen the operation grow and gone through all the ups and downs."
The credit union chalked up still another award, this one the NCUA Dora Maxwell Award for Social Responsibility. The award particularly noted AHCU’s Kids-n-Hope Foundation. Established in 1996, the foundation was created to assist chronically ill children at the Children’s Seashore House of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
All proceeds raised from various events such as an annual golf classic go directly to supporting the hospital. During the last 13 years, Kids-n-Hope Foundation donated more than $605,000 to a music therapy program that has purchased musical equipment, provided a full-time music therapist and brought in interactive performers specially trained in working with developmentally disabled children.
A graduate of North Carolina State University with degrees in political science and business administration, Foulke once ran his own landscaping business. Many of his customers were government employees and members of North Carolina State Employees Credit Union.
"One day one of them said, ‘Why don’t you go to work for the credit union?’ ‘What is a credit union?,’ I asked. ‘It’s like being a banker.’ ‘Oh, I’ll take it.’"
After what he considers a great learning experience at NCSECU, in 1979 Foulke accepted an offer to become general manager of what is today AHFCU.
About American Heritage
Primary sponsor & SEGs: 600 SEGs and the county of Philadelphia
Capital-to-asset ratio: 8.35%
Loan portfolio: $736 million
Employees : 337
About American HeritageAssets: $1.01 billion
About Bruce Foulke
Graduate of North Carolina State University
President/CEO since 1979
About Bruce Foulke