<p>By JIM RUBENSTEIN CU Times Southwest Correspondent WICHITA, Kan. – With an eye toward cutting brick and mortar costs while offering member convenience, three Wichita credit unions have teamed up to open a stand-alone shared branch, a rare fixture in the state. The new facility, located in southwest Wichita, is only the third of its kind in Kansas and the first to be opened in the state in three years. Two other facilities, also shared by three credit unions, are located in Topeka. Joining in a CUSO to operate the new "Credit Union Center" are the $100 million MidAmerican Credit Union, the $70 million Cessna Employees Credit Union and the $50 million TECO Credit Union. "All three of us have the same kind of demographics and all of us are eager to reach our members, and so we felt this was a way of doing it by sharing the expense by a third," explained Larry Damm, general manager of Cessna and president of the newly formed Wichita CUSO Inc. The project, said Damm, has been a year in the planning stages and was harder to put together than first thought because of technical conversion difficulties on computer data processing since each CU had its own system. The end result, he said, is that the new Wichita shared branch, which formally opened Nov. 15, can quickly accommodate members from any of the three participating CUS. Tellers can handle transactions by switching to systems of each CU system. Activity during the holidays was brisk, said Damm, noting the facility, which is a converted convenience store, is primarily a drive-through but can accommodate other member services including loans and opening of new accounts. "One of the biggest advantages is that we can answer the complaints of our members about convenient location as well as longer hours," said Damm. The shared branch is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., whereas his own CU offices close at 4 p.m. Cessna has only one branch while MidAmerican has a main office and "little offices in one or two SEGS" and TECU has a main office and a branch, said Damm. There are no plans, said Damm, to affiliate with any national shared branch network since from an economic view it would not be worth the expense since members do most of their transactions in the metro area. That is also the case for the Topeka CUSO which is unaffiliated. The two shared facilities in the Kansas capitol city service 24,000 transactions a month. Owners of those shared facilities are Educational Credit Union, Kansas Credit Union and Rubber Workers Federal Credit Union. The first shared branch in Topeka was opened seven years ago. The Wichita group "used our shared facilities as a model," said Greg Winkler, president and CEO of Capital CUSO which operates the Topeka "Credit Union Service Centers" Because of Kansas' rural demographics, Winkler said there has been little interest in linking up with national systems. One other area of the state which does have a potential for shared facilities is Kansas City, but it was understood shared facilities are available to CU members on the Missouri side. Damm said because solving the technical problems "turned out to be overwhelming" the Wichita CUSO for the moment is not soliciting other CUs to join the shared branch affiliation. "But we've had some interest" by other Kansas CUs, he said, but "right now" that interest is on hold. [email protected]</p>

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