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NEW YORK – International Credit Union Day had a significant meaning for United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU). With more than 40,000 members worldwide, liaison representatives in 16 UN duty stations around the world, and two main liaison offices in Vienna, Austria, and Geneva, Switzerland, the credit union is dedicated to “serving the people who serve the world,” as its motto states. “We basically celebrate International Credit Union Day everyday,” comments Pamela Agnone, senior vice president, retail services for the institution which reports assets of $1.5 billion. Her statement is underscored by the fact that more than 30% of the credit union’s staff of 190 (181 in New York and 9 full-time staffers in Geneva and Vienna) have foreign language skills, and approximately 40% of employees are foreign born. “The Vienna staff, for example, is fluent in English, German, French, Hungarian, Spanish and Afrikaans,” says Agnone. At its New York home base, UNFCU’s call center operates 18 hours a day with all operators capable of speaking English, French and Spanish to handle member calls from around the world. French and English, she adds, are the two primary languages spoken by UN staff members at duty stations. Therefore, all marketing and promotional materials are printed in these two languages. “We also try to hire staff members from the country in which the liaison office is located to help with any cultural barriers,” says Agnone. The credit union does not operate under any regulatory authority in its offices in Austria or Geneva, other than NCUA. Agnone recalls, however, that when the Geneva office was planning to open, the Swiss government required an independent audit of UNFCU’s financial information and contacted NCUA to confirm the institution was a credit union of good standing. “The operating standards vary from country to country,” says Agnone. “The Swiss were very forthright with their due diligence.” A big difference between UNFCU’s domestic and foreign members is that foreigners, especially Europeans, tend to be savers rather than borrowers. “Obviously, a large signature loan may not be what they want, but they are interested in our no-fee credit card which they may use extensively, but pay off from month to month,” says Agnone. Because Europeans have more of a tendency to save rather than borrow, the loan-to-share ratio on an international level is between 14 to 15%, while the ratio for domestic members is 112%. Overall, the total loan-to-share ratio for the entire credit union is 53%. According to Agnone, there has been no push from NCUA to get the international ratios to higher levels. An outstanding, but logical statistic is that 44% of UNFCU members actively use the Internet for services. “This platform is vital to our members,” says Agnone. With a PIN number, members can: check balances and recent transactions; transfer funds between UNFCU accounts; and make loan, mortgage loan or credit card payments. “UN staff members are somewhat transitory in nature. They work at a certain duty station for a certain period and then get reassigned to a different part of the world. It’s hard for some of our members to get situated in a new country and get assimilated with a financial service network there,” explains Agnone. “Sometimes, the local institutions are not comfortable with someone who has not been in the country for very long. So the credit union provides a constant link via the Internet . . . and it transcends time zones. They love it!” UNFCU only holds deposits in U.S. dollars. Most deposits are made via employee direct deposit. While checking and savings products are offered to U.S members, no checking products are offered in Europe. “They don’t use checks,” explains Agnone “but they use their debit cards extensively.” UNFCU does provide certain members who may be paid in a local foreign currency to make deposits into their UNFCU account. According to Agnone, “We have accommodations set up with local banks in Switzerland and Austria in which members can make a deposit in a local currency. We make them aware of the exchange rate and deposit the money in dollars into the credit union account.” Membership in UNFCU is open to employees of the United Nations, affiliated international agencies, retirees and family members. [email protected]

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