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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Why do CME Federal Credit Union and State Employees Credit Union want a financial counselor to help their members? Some statistics answer the question. A program at Nationwide Federal Credit Union here has already proved a success. Almost two years ago NFCU formed a partnership with Consumer Credit Counseling Services to provide a fulltime onsite counselor. Figures published by the Ohio Credit Union League show in 2001, 325 NFCU members received financial counseling in person or by phone and more than 700 attended seminars. As of July 2002, 212 members had received individual counseling and 472 attended educational sessions. In addition, financial counseling seminars offered by the league’s Central Ohio Chapter have also enjoyed strong response. Tammy Jones, SECU COO, notes those monthly sessions regularly draw 40 members. CMEFCU and SECU were so impressed they decided they want to offer a similar program to their members. But they wondered if there would be enough demand to justify each of them supporting the cost of a fulltime position. So the two credit unions are banding together to share a financial counselor who will maintain an office at each credit union. Details are still being worked out and there’s no decision yet on exactly how the counselor’s time will be split. Jones explains the project will begin as a six-month trial. At the end of the six months, the credit unions can decide if one or both needs a fulltime counselor. If only one appears to need the services fulltime, the counselor could concentrate on that credit union and another counselor could be assigned part-time to the other credit union. The credit unions will pick up the cost, and the counselor will attend credit union meetings and operate as part of the credit union staff. But the counselor will remain a CCCS employee and retain their counseling license and obtain needed education through CCCS. Jim Reiderer, CEO of CMEFCU, says the cost will be a challenge. “The program itself will not produce any direct income to the credit unions,” he notes. “It’s done more as a service to the members. But we hope in the long term the member will benefit, and when he or she does benefit and start saving or borrowing, the credit union will be the entity they think of.” The counselor will operate from a home base at each credit union, and may travel to branches or float where the need arises. CMEFCU and SECU are both on the same data processing system, which means the counselor will only have to learn one system in order to tap into a member’s financial records. Members will be alerted to the service through newsletter articles, envelope ads, statement stuffers and CCCS marketing brochures. “Maybe – and this is what we’re hoping – both credit unions will need a fulltime person,” Jones explains. “We’re negotiating with CCCS right now. They’re talking to their employees and asking who would be willing to share time with two credit unions. “Then we’ll be able to interview the candidates and pick the person we think is best going to fit our credit unions,” she adds. Jones doesn’t believe members will shy away from sharing their concerns at seminars. When she sat in on a session at NFCU, she discovered participants readily spoke up and announced they need help with a particular financial problem. She anticipates members will present a variety of issues to the counselor. The counselor will work closely with the loan department to help members who have been declined for a loan clean up any problems. Budgeting assistance is expected to be another common request. All this fits nicely into the credit union philosophy, Jones believes. “We’re not doing our job if we’re not helping educate our members. We want members to know we’re here to help them build their financial future,” she declares. “This fills a missing link. If a member is declined for a loan right now we really don’t have a next step. Now we’ll have someone who can call them and say, `We have an option for you. Come in and let’s talk about your credit and see what we can do so six months from now we may be able to grant you that loan.’” -

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