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<p>ENDICOTT, N.Y. – Beefing up automated services including being among the first in the market to offer aggregated and wireless Internet functions is part of the formula that has propelled Visions Federal Credit Union to billionaire-asset status. Originally chartered in 1965 as IBM Oswego Credit Union and IBM Endicott Credit Union in 1966, both entities merged in 1980. Twelve years later, when IBM sold one of its divisions, the company’s “major rightsizing” prompted the credit union to reconsider whether its strategic plan should include serving one principle sponsor. In 1993, the credit union’s name was changed to Visions FCU despite 99% of its membership being IBM employees. Today, the credit union serves more than 100 select employee groups. “We really questioned whether we should put all eggs in one basket with one employer,” said Frank Berrish, Visions’ president/CEO. “The change has allowed us to grow and create a lot of new programs.” Indeed in 1999, NCUA gave Visions approval to convert from a $987.9 million multiple-group charter to a community charter with the capability to serve people who live, work or attend school in several counties here. The 1990s saw a series of mergers with three small credit unions and today, Visions has 100,000 members, 285 employees and $1.3 billion in assets. The credit union also has 17 branches throughout New York and Pennsylvania and 61 automated teller machines. Berrish, who has been with Visions for 25 years, said the easiest thing to implement when he came aboard was to develop a strategic plan for management and the board of directors that called for more aggressive automation including increasing commodity transactions through automated teller machines. Back in 1977, only 24% of those functions were automated. Berrish said 86% of the credit union’s functions are now automated, contributing to Visions having among the lowest operating expense to average asset ratio in the industry. Visions was among the first in the marketplace to offer access to financial services through wireless applications including through Internet enabled cell phones, and personal digital assistant devices, Berrish said. The move to have such cutting-edge services came after researching the market well before competitors started putting feelers out about the usability. “The short term results looked promising, and since we’ve had wireless services since October, the outcome looks even more promising,” Berrish predicted. Members can also access their monthly account activity through online e-statements and make bill payments rounding out Visions’ strategy to be an aggressive provider of technology services to a high-tech membership base. At the credit union’s annual conference in February, record numbers were announced including returning more dividends to members, charging lower loan rates, having higher productivity assets per employee and a higher capital to assets ratio. Another strong point in 2001 was implementing an expanded risk-based lending program to provide loans to a broader member base. Visions also saved money by bringing its credit/debit card operation in house. Looking forward, Berrish said Visions has an aggressive 30-item strategic plan that includes the possible formation a trust company with other New York credit unions, several branch openings, the ability to pull up checks on the Internet and commercial deposit services. “Many of our members are asking for commercial loans and lines of credits and we’re also looking to set up a new division that will buy loans from other credit unions,” Berrish said. Most CEOs agree that a credit union is only as good as its employees and Berrish frequently shares that philosophy at Visions emphasizing “every one needs to be sensitive to the members’ needs.” For more than 20 years, Visions has conducted in-house training programs to develop experts in mortgage and loan services. Berrish has complemented internal staff development with outside consultants to critique and fine-tune the credit union’s 300 services and products. Employees from Visions’ 17 branches are invited to monthly luncheons to talk with Berrish about operational issues. Berrish admits that “in the early days, there was a tendency to be autocratic and in control” of all credit union issues but now he’s more of a delegater. “My role right now is changing more to coach and dealing with board and community involvement issues,” he said. “With our size, there is the need of the president to get out more to tell employees how much they’re appreciated.” -</p> <p>[email protected]</p>

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