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VOGELWEH, Germany and PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – What happens when you are a healthy credit union with satisfied members, and then a large number of your members disappear for reasons beyond your control? That is what happened to Service Credit Union (SCU) at its branch in Germany when troop reductions forced the CU to rethink much of what they were doing without losing the service ideals they stood for. SCU, which is headquartered in Portsmouth, N.H., opened its first office in Germany at Ramstein Air Force Base in 1968. Ramstein was often in the news as the base where newly released Middle Eastern hostages were brought for debriefing and medical attention. By the early 1990s SCU had 16 branches scattered throughout Germany. However, although SCU has only half the number of branches as in their heyday, these branches are as committed as ever to serving their members, including when military personnel rotate back to the U.S. or to other locations in Germany. Sometimes it is necessary to provide certain loans or other services for these rotations. SCU’s current overseas branches are in Stuttgart, Baumholder, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Ramstein and Spangsahelm and Vogelweh. One of the ways to keep the remaining members happy and to encourage new people who rotate in to join is to make sure the branches are well staffed. According to President and CEO Gordon A. Simmons, the 24,700 members are serviced by a complete staff, who provide not just member services, but training, marketing, IT support and more. Staff are often recruited from military family members, retirees who have chosen to stay in Germany, or people traveling through the country that want to settle down for a while. However, running distant branches is not easy and the “overseas branch offices rely heavily on support from headquarters,” Simmons said. Their computer system allows 7/24 availability, extra important to soldiers or air force people whose hours are far from regular. Back home in the U.S., SCU was faced with similar problems when the military bases at Portsmouth and Fort Devons, Mass. closed. Simmons said SCU took action by merging with five smaller credit unions – four in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts. They converted from a federal to a New Hampshire state credit union charter in October 1998. Both the federal and state charters permit them to serve members who have returned stateside, no matter where in America they have settled. Out of a potential of three million members, SCU has 95,532 members globally. There is room to grow. Simmons said, “We continue to look for expansion in the military market and are pleased that in spite of the many civilian members we serve today, the majority of our membership and service is military in nature. We are proud to continue to be able to serve our men and women in uniform and to provide service that is sensitive to their financial needs.” Part of the way SCU communicates with the military overseas is through advertisements in the Stars & Stripes newspaper, a military newspaper known to any one who ever served abroad. The Internet makes it easy to reach those members fitted with computers. Other marketing is done with direct mailings, newsletters and all the ordinary methods a credit union that is located in one country would use. Simmons said, “A month does not pass without some form of contact with our members in one form or another.” One of the things that Simmons takes great pride in is that pay is available to those with direct deposit before non-credit union military receive their pay in a program called Early Payday checking. SCU members receive their money anywhere from two to four days before non-members. This means SCU members in Germany can avoid the long lines at the commissary and PX. However, this type of service matches SCU’s vision statement to “Offer a package of low cost, competitive products and services that are sensitive to the financial needs of our worldwide membership with a personal service touch complimented by the 24/7 convenience of technology”. A second service is called the STAR Program. It is designed for junior enlisted members in the pay grades of E-4 and below and moderate-income earners who earn less than $18,000 annually. Simmons said, “It provides (1) a share savings account that pays 1% above the highest savings rate we offer, (2) a $250 minimum balance, 6 month Share Certificate rate equal to our one year certificate rate or higher and withdrawals are permitted without early withdraw penalty, (3) a loan discount on most of our popular loans of ? percent (50 basis points) and (4) Free Checking.” No minimum balances are required and there are no monthly fees, no per check charge, three free ATM transactions monthly at non-Service CU ATM’s and earns interest. With sensitivity and positive response to their different market segments, it is little wonder that SCU is still growing with over $634 million in assets. -

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