<p>ALEXANDRIA, Va. – With one year's worth of trust services experience under its belt, UniTrust Financial Services LLC has reassessed its goals and repositioned itself to emphasize its trust advisory capabilities. "We are not purveyors of products, we're advisors," said Chris Langley, UniTrust's chief operating officer. "Our only product is advice, that's what members are paying for. Our advisors are our product. Products are anxillary to the advice we give." Launched in January 2001 to provide mutual funds, annuities, insurance, online portfolios and other brokerage services to D.C.-Northern Virginia credit union members of CommonWealth One FCU, Arlington Virginia FCU, Transportation FCU, Genesis FCU, and Fort Belvoir FCU, UniTrust has since added four more credit unions to those it originally partnered with – Department of Veterans Affairs FCU, Fairfax County Employees CU, Wright Patman Congressional FCU, and Department of Labor FCU (CU Times, May 30, 2001.) UniTrust currently has 900 clients and $15 million under management – three times the assets it had when the company started out. Langley said other credit unions have `expressed an interest" in UniTrust, and the company is talking with them. As part of its new strategy, UniTrust cut its ties with CUNA Mutual Group last November and announced a partnership with Securian Financial Network, a subsidiary of the Minnesota Mutual Companies, to provide "a coordinated approach to managing the multiple products" offered to credit union members. "Initially when we first got out of the gate and put our feet in the trust waters, going with CUNA Mutual Group as the provider of services to members was a safe decision for us considering CUNA Mutual Group's visibility and reputation among credit unions. But at the end of last year we did a year end assessment, We were looking for a partner that shared our expectations for face-to-face advisory services because that's where the rubber meets the road, and we decided SFN was a better fit for us," said Langley. SFN is also providing UniTrust with auto, home, and term life insurance coverages, along with an appliance warranty program through their CustomQuote platform. Langley sees a big need for trust services to credit union members, and he's not surprised that more credit unions through CUSOs are offering them. "It's a function of members' demographics," he said. "As members have aged and demographics have shifted, the need for trust services has increased. It's human nature that the older we get, the more we tend to think about these sorts of issues. We move from growing our assets to wanting to protect and preserve them." UniTrust offers a full menu of trust-related products and services for members of various age groups. Among them are College Funding Planning Services; Financial Management Services; Retirement Planning; and Estate Planning. Of course, banks are also beefing up their trust department, and even brokerage house are shifting away from proprietary offerings and moving toward asset management, fee-based planning services with broad based fiduciary responsibilities. "People were guided by self-directed advice when the market was hot, but now they're looking for professional advice," said Langley. He emphasized that UniTrust discourages members from coming in and simply stating they want to buy 100 shares of Company X. Instead, the company recommends funds based on things like a member's needs, suitability testing, their risk tolerance, age, goal and time frame. Langley emphasized that, "UniTrust is not a brokerage house, we're advisors. When members come to us for advice, they want to be sure that the individual they're working with has their best interest in mind. It's like the relationship you should have with your doctor, it's at that level." Langley's looking forward to UniTrust's second year of business. His focus this year will be on developing the company's network of representatives and to do a better job of penetrating affiliated credit unions. Although UniTrust has only been in business a little more than a year, Langley has already learned some valuable lessons. Top on his list – credit unions considering forming CUSOs to offer trust services should approach trust services only as part of an entire offering – investment management. "If trust services are all they're offering, then they're missing the boat," said Langley. "Trust services are a growing need, but the need is broader in terms of investment management." He also strongly recommended that credit unions and CUSOs consider partnering with third parties, such as Securian Financial Network, because of the expertise they can provide. If they choose to go it alone, they should be prepared to invest the considerable resources it takes to train and support staff. -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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