ALEXANDRIA, Va. – It's been a year since UniTrust Financial Services, LLC launched with the promise of offering credit union members mutual funds, annuities, insurance, online portfolios and other brokerage services. And while the nation's economy has been stuck on dormant, UniTrust has since added Wright Patman Congressional FCU to its seven-credit union list and increased total members served to 250,000. Even though the CUSO has tripled its assets under management to $15 million, it fell short of its $25 million year-end target, said Chris Langely, CEO. "The market has certainly had a dampening effect on our goals," Langely admitted. "After Sept. 11, the mood has changed. A lot of our members are really wanting to lean on someone for advice, whereas before there was a more predominant sense of self-direction." With those factors in mind, UniTrust has repositioned its focus to beefing up its investment/advisory services by first, partnering with Securian Financial Network (SFN), a subsidiary of the Minnesota Mutual Companies that provides property, casualty, life and health insurance. Secondly, support for member investment and financial planning will be provided through SFN by Nathan Bergeland, a regional director with Financial Network Investment Corp., a broker/dealer powerhouse with 2,700 financial advisers and $4.5 billion in sales. The firm recently merged with ING, Inc. the international financial services conglomerate. Because SFN provides "professional services, not proprietary products," Bergeland said the distinction for members will be crystal clear. "By partnering with SFN, members will get integrated information through all member contacts – loan officer, member service representative and investment advisor – and we will optimize the value these programs provide credit unions," he said. Langely said the CUSO's product and pricing structure has essentially remained for all member demographics but what has changed post-Sept. 11 is an "assessment of where a person is in their lives be it with assets, having enough and the right type of insurance and exploring annuity options. What also remains important is partnering with credit unions that may not have the financial clout to deliver financial management services. Indeed, most of the UniTrust's credit unions are in the small to mid-size asset range. "A lot of CUSOs are not well known, sometimes the resources are not there to bring in competent managers who know the industry," said Chuck Wiger, SFN's media relations director. "It's real hard for credit unions to go it alone because becoming full-service providers can easily become a weighty proposition." Langely said all the services will be available to members by the first of the year and as always, UniTrust will continue to conduct focus groups and garner member feedback through surveys to tweak and refine. UniTrust has a more unique position than most CUSOs because all of its credit union clients are in the DC/Virginia region, an area trying to recover from the Pentagon attack. "People are afraid to jump in, they're afraid to jump out," Langely explained. "This is a competitive area but as is probably the case in other parts of the country, people want to turn to someone that can help them with long-term planning." – [email protected]

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