NEW YORK -Actors Federal Credit Union is leaving its mark on the city that never sleeps – with ATMs. What started in 1999 with just two ATMs has grown exponentially, and the $72 million credit union now boasts 100 ATMs making it a contender in a market dominated by banking giants. “I don’t know if it was desperation or if necessity really is the mother of invention,” said AFCU President/ CEO Jeff Rodman. “We knew that we had to be more convenient for our members, but I don’t think any of us anticipated the member response would be what it has been. Our members actually come to us with contact information on where another ATM can be placed.” The ATMs can be found in local delis, supermarkets, newsstands, drug stores and just off almost every subway stop at a McDonald’s restaurant. Making good on its tagline of “Our Buck Stops at Your Stop”, Rodman says that both members and nonmembers are taking notice. “What this has done is really raise our credibility with our members,” said AFCU Marketing Director Steven Sobotta. “It’s like one day we were `just’ a credit union and now because our ATMs are all over the city, we are `the credit union’ and our members have a lot of pride in Actors FCU and they view us as valuing `service first’.” According to Rodman, when the competition started upping ATM surcharges around the city, he and the board knew it was time for the credit union to offer members a convenient surcharge free alternative. While he and other credit unions here had discussed the prospect of an ATM network here in 1997 with CO-OP Network CEO Bob Rose, no actions came out of the meeting. In 1999 faced with numbers that had “flat lined” throughout 1998, AFCU decided to take the first steps to building its own ATM network. First AFCU joined the CO-OP Network, then Rodman and Sobotta, knowing that a significant number of members lived in Manhattan’s upper Westside, took to the streets and they literally walked into every store for two weeks trying to place their first offsite ATM. “Our first spot was this local convenience store called Essentials Plus and getting into there which was a great location was a combination of luck and persistence,” said Rodman. “What is ironic is that the owner of that store insisted that our nonmember surcharge fee be 99 cents which initially I was opposed to because it sounded so cheesy, but that fee has turned every one of our ATMs into a destination spot.” About 80% of those “destination spots” are located in McDonald’s restaurants. That relationship started with AFCU landing a meeting with one of the biggest McDonalds franchise owners in the city. With convenience as a push and AFCU’s main objective to place ATMs near subway stops, teaming up turned out to be an advantage that couldn’t be passed over said Sobotta. AFCU now has deals with over 20 McDonald franchise owners that each run an average of 10-15 restaurants. According to Rodman, the 99-cent pricing surcharge really increases foot traffic in every location and that has been a draw that owners recognize. Surcharges priced any higher-even a dollar- are not enough of a lure to encourage consumers to use the ATMs. “Our initial vision was just to have this as a convenience for our members and really if we could break even on the machines great,” said Rodman. “What happened is that our vision started to grow and in a few ways almost became its own business. Given our size we couldn’t support supplying the cash to all the ATMs so we started to share the machines with different credit unions.” Here is how it works: The ATM income and expenses are split 50/50 between AFCU and the credit union partner. AFCU provides signage, owns, maintains and operates the 100 machines, which are all publicly accessible and in return the credit union partner supplies the vault cash. “For example if the vault cash is $50,000 then that goes into a special account at AFCU and based on the total expense of the ATM including cost of machine, signage and rent to the store owner, at the end of the day they see a return on investment of 5.25-6.25%,” said Rodman. “It works out for everyone – the partnering credit union gets to offer members surcharge free access to ATMs in the city, their name is on the ATM, we send them checks, and our overall ROI is a little over 10% which includes the cost to other credit unions.” AFCU currently shares about 25 ATMs with Lower East Side Peoples FCU, United Nations FCU, Artist Community FCU, Union Settlement FCU and First Entertainment Credit Union. “When we first started this, we had this huge push to get the word out from zip code sorts and sending buck slips to those areas that had a high number of members to posters in the branches and newsletters. We just kept hammering the point home,” said Sobotta. “Whenever I visited our SEGs or talked to any members, I mentioned that we are in your neighborhood. If a member moved we sent them an ATM directory that let them know where the AFCU ATM was located in their new neighborhood.” Sobotta designed all artwork for promotional materials including signage, posters, direct mail and newsletters in-house. For door signage Rodman suggested the signature bright yellow and blue that members recognize on sight as AFCU-owned ATMs. Now that word has spread, Sobotta says his job is a little easier. AFCU now has a team of four employees dedicated to ATM growth. In addition, the revenue from the ATMs has helped create a new phone center and expand other programs such as the Web site, online banking and the loan department. “The ATMs and our signage helped create our brand by demonstrating our dedication to member service,” said Sobotta. “And it has created this ripple effect so that people are walking into our branch and saying `oh you are the credit union with the 99-cent ATMs, that’s such a great deal,’ and then they ask about what else we’re offering. But the best part is that it helps promote the whole credit union community and philosophy here in New York City. Our priority has always been about service to the membership not about the money.” [email protected]

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