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OKLAHOMA CITY – Never let it be said that Tinker FCU doesn’t encourage its members from the get go to take an active stance on behalf of credit unions. Go to the $1.3-billion CU’s Web site – www.tinkerfcuu.org click on `membership’, and you’ll find a link to information on the Credit Union Defense Fund. From the time they first join TFCU, members are encouraged to sign up for Deduct-A-Buck. Their $1 a month goes to the Oklahoma Credit Union Political Action Committee and the Credit Union Legislative Action Council. “It’s one thing for staff of a credit union to voice their opinions about the ability of credit unions to serve members. It’s important for that to come from members, and to come from them on a day-to-day basis, not just when there’s a major issue at hand,” says Tinker President/CEO Michael Kloiber. It’s Tinker’s emphasis on getting members involved in credit union issues and making them feel critically tied to the future of the credit union that has helped propel Tinker in to the billionaire circle. “One thing we’re trying to do is not fall behind the times like we did in the 80s and 90s when we had to fend off attacks from the banking groups. We’re trying to convince our members how necessary it is to always be aware state and national political leaders are there and we need to make our voices heard,” Tinker’s president says. Kloiber’s been with Tinker for 15 years, half of which time he’s spent as the credit union’s president and CEO. A graduate of University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond with a degree in elementary education, Kloiber taught school for a couple of years before switching career. He earned an MBA, also from University of Central Oklahoma, and worked for 10 years in banking before moving into credit unions. Kloiber realizes that Tinker’s size gives it a certain amount of leverage that smaller credit unions don’t enjoy. He acknowledges that large credit unions enjoy an economy of scale that allows them to afford more branches and a full array of products and services. He adds that another advantage of a larger membership base is the ability to attract volunteers. “That’s probably going to be one of the greater challenges for small credit unions. I can understand how difficult it would be if our membership were a tenth the size it is,” he says. Still, Kloiber sees a future for both large and small credit unions. Many people may feel more comfortable dealing with a smaller institution. As a credit union grows, it can become more and more difficult to deliver individual attention. TFCU traces its history back to 1946, when some civilian employees at what was then Tinker Field founded what has blossomed into the largest credit union in Oklahoma. In addition to serving Tinker Air Force Base, TFCU has added select employee groups representing employees of more than 300 area companies. The credit union has been expanding its field of membership for the last quarter century, trying to position itself to survive if the base were closed. Even so, base personnel and their families still comprise at least 30 to 35% of TFCU’s membership. Has the war in Iraq and continued military activity there affected the credit union? “You have personnel deployed all over the Middle East, especially the type of units we have here,” Kloiber answers. “We have the AWACS unit and we also have a Navy wing which is back and forth patrolling across the ocean. A lot of reservists have also left out of this area. “Of course we work with the families that are still here trying to make ends meet. We work with the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act. Our goal is to make it as easy for them as possible.” That’s in addition to the usual challenges posed by increasingly intense competition. Consumers here can now choose from even more credit unions. State-chartered credit unions in Oklahoma recently were allowed to operate with community charters, and increasing numbers are being rechartered to take advantage of that change, Kloiber points out. Vying with banks for members is nothing new, but today firms such as brokerage companies and insurance companies are expanding their menus to include what are for them non-traditional financial services. Many of these competitors target military personnel for products such as car loans. There are also check cashers and payday lenders that take advantage of entry-level military ranks. “One of the things we concentrate on is education and training, especially as new personnel come onto the base,” Kloiber says. “We try to make sure they understand the best option is to come to the credit union. It may be quick and satisfying to get a payday loan but it’s very, very expensive. The same thing with check cashing.” Kloiber reports TFCU has an excellent relationship with the base. The credit union has been given the opportunity to meet with new personnel, both military and civilian, transferred to Tinker. Many are reassigned to Tinker when bases elsewhere close. “The theme around here is Team Tinker, because there is the Navy, Air Force and all the contractors. We’re proud to be part of the team,” he states. Of course, there’s a flip side to transfers. Just as personnel move in, they may also move out. But Kloiber says Tinker does a good job of keeping members even as they as relocated throughout the United States and the world. Technology helps. In addition to offering online banking, an automated voice system and other computer-based services, TFCU participates in the Shared Service Network. That allows members to access branches in 40 states. If you’re in Oklahoma, the credit union’s Mobile Service Center may come to you. The 38-foot motor home offers two ATMS and a Personal Account Teller machine on the exterior with loan and new account services in the interior offices. The main purpose of this branch on wheels is to provide curbside services to SEGs outside metro Oklahoma City. At the same time, brick and mortar branches won’t disappear. “I think there’s a comfort feeling to knowing your financial institution has a place you can walk in and out of,” Kloiber notes. Let’s say someone moves into the Oklahoma City metro area. They’re looking for a financial institution. With all the options, how can a credit union stand out? “It’s got to be an overall package with service, price and delivery,” Kloiber answers. “I think the number of branches affects that. I think that’s one of the biggest challenges community charters face. If you have just a few branches, it’s very difficult to serve a large community. “Overall, word of mouth is so important. One person tells another, `I have my financial services at Tinker Federal Credit Union because they’ve always treated me well.’ I think if you concentrate on your present membership you will continue to grow.” It is more difficult today to develop member loyalty, he continues. You really have to educate the membership about the value of being one of the owners of a credit union. -

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