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<p>NEW YORK – For a credit union that serves members from more than 100 countries, the United Nations Federal Credit Union relies heavily on marketing research to tap into a diversity of needs. The credit union recently reached the billion-dollar asset mark, and Michael Connery, president/CEO, attributes that pinnacle to a mixture of paying “great attention” to getting to know what the member wants and to hiring employees who genuinely want to serve them. Indeed, when Connery came aboard in 1989, UNFCU had 16,330 members and $239 million and has since grown to 48,000 members and $1.4 billion in assets. “Reaching a certain asset mark isn’t something we pay attention to,” Connery said. “Our primary goal is to provide the best services to the members and we pay a great deal of attention to marketing research to respond to their financial needs.” UNFCU was chartered in 1947 and has kept a tightly-niched membership base serving employees of the United Nations, U.S. Committee of UNICEF, United Nations Foundation and the United Nations Day Care Center. Headquartered in New York, the credit union also has offices in Geneva, Switzerland and Vienna, Austria. Nearly 13 years ago, Connery had the advantage of talking the helm of a “very financially sound” credit union but there were three areas that were of priority: the installation of an automated teller machine, exploring the addition of in-house check clearing and finding additional commercial space. “Installing the ATM program that allowed our members access to other institutions’ ATMs triggered some of the growth we had,” Connery said. With the growth, UNFCU experienced expansion pains and was in dire need of a larger facility. Rather than make a monumental move, Connery said they stayed in their current building, made that entire area for member services and moved administration and back office functions to another building a block from the United Nations headquarters. The main office houses a mail/telephone center and UNFCU Financial Services Inc., the CUSO that launched in 1997 and offers traditional investment and financial planning services. Of the three priority items, the in-house check clearing option was nixed because it wasn’t financially or logistically feasible, Connery said. Over the years, pricing changes were made in lending areas, longer-term certificates were added and UNFCU did its first major marketing survey, which continues to be executed every three years. “We discovered that members wanted to maintain a low or no-fee structure, higher savings and loans rates and we were able to make those available and maintain a very competitive position,” Connery said. Because UNFCU serves an international member base – 50% are from outside of the U.S. – the credit union also offers access to off-shore funds for non-resident aliens. Other products such as credit cards and signature loans are particularly needed because of their acceptance and usefulness in purchasing housing worldwide. The one area that has posed some operational challenges is in lending. Connery said it “becomes a little difficult because of the money exchanges in other countries.” As a result, UNFCU has been conducting a lending trial program in Santiago, Chile and Nairobi, Kenya. So far, the trial has been without obstacles and is expected to continue. “We were considering experimenting with a pilot program in lending in Argentina but pulled back because of the economic problems there,” Connery said. “Our decision to proceed with caution was rewarded because our staff from there reaffirmed our concerns.” Connery also credits UNFCU’s growth to a superior staff that is able to deftly attend to a diverse membership. “We pay a great deal of attention to human resources and taking good care of our people,” he said. That focus on detail could not have come at a more pressing time for UNFCU’s 175 employees. The perimeter surrounding the United Nations building has always deployed intense security measures, but Sept. 11 heightened those restrictions, Connery said. “We were at the opposite end of the World Trade Centers but with all that had happened, we were shut down for a day and a half,” Connery recalled. Many of UNFCU’s employees take the subway to work and with the lack of transit operations, most of downtown came to a halt. An UNFCU international telephone line that ran under one of the Trade Center towers was also lost. By the first part of December, Connery said commuting means were back to normal. Meanwhile, UNFCU has changed its entire modes of access and is in the process of redoing its disaster recovery plan. Members will also have access to a new call center with much a much faster and improved routing system. “We’ll also be looking at ways to enhance productivity and member relationships because we operate under a somewhat different set of procedures given our membership,” Connery said. “It’s important to really know who your members are. We continue to do our research to be sure that we are meeting their financial needs.” -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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