The $150 million Affinity Group Credit Union of suburban Detroit said this week it is charting new ground by linking a local education charity to the launch of a branded virtual branch.
The Pontiac, Mich., credit union said it hopes to derive income from the virtual branch serving school teachers within a year as it signs up new accounts. It also expects to share the profits with the charity, known as “Operation: Kid Equip,” said Affinity.
“We believe we are the first to start this kind of a virtual branch in Michigan and perhaps elsewhere, as well,” said Matt Jenkins, vice president of marketing and public relations at Affinity Group.
Affinity’s OKE Financial branch was officially debuted to school teachers at grand opening ceremonies at a local restaurant two weeks ago, Jenkins said.
The charity helps teachers and students by providing free books and equipment and has been in operation for more than a year. “We decided to adapt their program to our business model and branching brand,” Jenkins said.
OKE Financial, in effect, becomes another of Affinity’s existing brands serving members at the credit union’s five southeast Michigan branches.
Unlike credit unions which eliminate the local brand in mergers, the 20,000-member Affinity has retained the existing name on the $25 million to $35 million credit unions it has merged since 2007. The latest was Kensington Valley Community CU, which like the others kept its name but added “a part of Affinity Group Credit Union.”
OKE Financial will contain the same designation, said Jenkins. Affinity said its new virtual branch started with a simple charitable relationship between Affinity Group and OKE and has since grown.
“Teachers are facing school budget cuts, pay and benefit cuts and having to dip into their own pockets for basic classroom needs,” said Glenda West, Affinity Group CEO. By establishing the virtual branch, Affinity Group demonstrates that “we understand their situation. We get it and want to help by putting money back into teacher pockets.”
At the same time, Affinity Group believes it can “grow credit union support for Operation: Kid Equip as teachers become new members and move their loans and financial services to the branch,” the credit union said.
“The partnership with Affinity Group will help OKE provide more school supplies, books, hygiene items, clothing and food for kids across metro Detroit who need them the most," said Menachem Kniespeck, CEO of Operation: Kid Equip.
Jenkins said it was uncertain how many new accounts might be signed up through OKE Financial but stressed it is “focused on saving teachers money by putting money back in their pockets when they bring their loans and financial services to the credit union. As the branch generates new members, we will also be able to increase our support for Operation: Kid Equip,” said Jenkins.
Affinity Group’s membership stretches across five southeast Michigan counties: Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Monroe and Livingston.