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RICHMOND, Va. – Call Federal Credit Union President/CEO Roger B. Ball has hopes that his Credit Union Mall idea will take root and lead to the sprouting of similar “malls” across the country. “It was an idea that had been in my head for a long time. The advantage of working in credit unions for 25 years and one of the things I admired most is the cooperative aspect of credit unions, and I’ve always believed that as long as members are being served it doesn’t matter which credit union does it because we all benefit,” said Ball. “Besides if you’re going to build a facility it should generate the highest use and bring in the most members.” His dream of several credit unions sharing one roof became a reality some two years ago when a quickly expanding Call FCU outgrew its former branch and tapped Connects Federal Credit Union and Richmond Federal Credit Union to join the credit union in its new branch. These were credit unions that Ball and the board believed had sufficient members in the area the branch would be built yet still didn’t have a presence there. Designed by Pittsburgh -based design/build firm PW Campbell, the facility houses three credit unions that branch off a common entryway much like a mall. Each credit union storefront has its own lobby and two drive-thru lanes. Call FCU owns the building and space is leased to the other credit unions. Fully furnished, each credit union simply had to bring in staff, computer systems and retail merchandising to be operational, Ball says. “It was great because the board of directors and management felt that if we were going to go to the expense of building a new branch why not offer space to two smaller credit unions that may not otherwise have been able to do so on their own,” said Ball. “The idea is that eventually the two other credit unions will build a large enough base to move into their own branch and we can invite other smaller credit unions to use that vacated space to build their membership. So ultimately the credit union movement as a whole benefits by lending a helping hand to smaller credit unions.” With three distinct FOMs, competing for members is a non-issue and to further create a level playing field rates are kept out of the cooperative lobby. Ball says not only has member response to the mall been phenomenal but the best part of the experience has been showing the community the credit union difference- that they can stand side by side and cooperatively work together to serve members. The three credit unions have even joined forces on a few marketing campaigns from car sales to an upcoming member appreciation event scheduled during International Credit Union Day. “There are several things that we as an industry have to accept-25 years ago people only belonged to one credit union anyone who believes that is true today is off base and credit unions need to get over that fear; the next thing is the idea that smaller credit unions are intimidated by community chartered credit unions and that big CUs will gobble them all up-my theory is that a credit union cannot serve anyone who doesn’t join so it doesn’t matter about potential base until they decide to join your credit union. We should be focusing on `what can I do to attract people to the credit union?’ because member growth is just as important as asset size if you’re not growing members then your credit union isn’t going anywhere no matter what your size,” said Ball. According to Ball, the mall also creates a situation where each credit union has to evaluate and really pinpoint its niche and brand to market that unique value to members. While it has been running smoothly a few of the initial minor glitches ranged from educating members on how to distinguish and navigate each CU’s drive thru lanes to setting similar hours of operation. The mall has been such a success that future plans for building a second mall facility in another part of town is under consideration and Ball challenges other CUs to look at partners in the area and see if a mall is something that can work for them. “It sends such a powerful visual message and new light to the credit union movement,” said Ball. “With all the banker accusations, a credit union mall reinstates the core values of credit unions – no bank would go into a building with other banks. The best defense is something people can see so the mall is one more way to create more of a community environment while doing the right thing.” [email protected]

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