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<p>CU Times Southwest Correspondent PHOENIX – The $1.5 billion Desert Schools Credit Union here is stepping up its branch program in 2002 with plans to set up “four to six facilities” of which most will probably be in grocery stores. It is the largest facility expansion for Desert Schools in years since the CU has been opening an average of about one a year. The credit union now has 17 facilities in metropolitan Phoenix. “We believe opening new branches such as these helps us attract new members,” explained Brad Loebbaka, senior director of marketing and business development for the state’s largest CU with 227,000 members. Desert Schools expects to open the first branch later this month in B&G Fresh Foods, an independent neighborhood store in central Phoenix. Another food store facility is planned this quarter and perhaps four more supermarket locations in leased space are to be announced later in the year. Among the facilities planned is a stand-alone unit at a location yet to be announced. “We’ve found that the demand is there,” said Loebbaka, noting Desert Schools membership experienced an 8% net increase in 2001. On the facility expansion, he said several existing Desert School branches have undergone remodeling including the first drive-through teller unit in central Phoenix. The Phoenix credit union, he said, is also emphasizing electronic and Internet services including home banking and may experiment with Internet kiosks in the new facilities. Desert Schools has 50,000 active users for its home banking products, he said. “We’ve found that our members want a combination of convenient branch location and Internet services,” he said. The first B&G food store branch will feature three service windows, an ATM and Internet and phone access to Desert Schools. Members can open new accounts, apply for loans and receive account service at the 500-square-foot branch. Loebbaka acknowledged that in Arizona food stores have been the branch preserve of large banks which have numerous outlets in the major chains including Kroger/Frye’s and Safeway. Both Bank One and Wells Fargo have a wide presence in these stores but have skirted the independent food outlets. In a news release announcing the B&G facility, both Desert Schools and B&G said they found much in common since both organizations are “not part of a chain” and have a strong “community” orientation. B&G, said the release, is an independent grocer aligned with IGA, a food wholesaler “that offers marketing and price support.” B&G, a former ABCO food store owned by a regional chain, was opened early last year in a purchase deal from Fleming Companies Inc., a Dallas-based wholesale/retail firm that supplies supermarkets and convenience stores. The president of B&G said his grocery firm was heartened to set up a “partnership” with Desert Schools which was B&G’s “top choice” among financial institutions for the facility contract. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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