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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Single-sponsor CU Tidewater Telephone Employees CU “never wanted to be a mega big credit union,” says its CEO, and that’s why it’s determined to maintain a personal touch with its members even though the CU was approved by its state regulator for a community charter. The $35 million, 6,300-member Tidewater Telephone Employees CU was approved Oct. 28 by the Virginia Bureau of Financial Institutions to expand its field of membership to include the communities of Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Newport News, and Hampton. It is the largest community charter granted by the BFI for a state-chartered credit union. The estimated population of the seven cities is approximately 1.1 million, according to the 2002 U.S. Census. President/CEO Sharon Emory said Tidewater Telephone Employees’ application for the FOM expansion was prompted by its shrinking membership and the continuing downsizing of its sponsor Verizon. Stressing that the credit union “is financially in excellent shape,” she explained that, “We didn’t want to give up our single sponsor, but with the downsizing the communications industry has been going through and the fact that Verizon hasn’t been able to hire new employees, we weren’t able to attract new members. This was going on constantly for many years. Without many active employees in the area for us to draw new members from, we can’t sustain the members we previously had. Some of our members left the area, others have passed away.” Verizon is also a multi-state company, and Emory said as a result of the downsizing the company often uses employees in other states to perform certain functions. Emory didn’t have estimates on the number of members Tidewater Telephone Employees has lost, but two years ago the CU had more than 7,000 members. In deciding whether to apply for a community charter and which areas to include, Emory said the CU determined it was most important not to “abandon” the members of the phone company Tidewater Telephone Employees had been serving. In fact, even before it filed its charter conversion application the credit union was already serving the seven cities included in its community charter – the difference was that before Tidewater Telephone Employees could only serve employees and their families of communications industries in those cities, and now it can serve anyone who lives or works there. Now that Tidewater Telephone Employees has a community charter, Emory said, “We’ll take baby steps with it and see what happens.” The CU hasn’t decided yet whether it will change its name. Emory said some board members are in favor of a change, “but others are not so anxious,” she said, adding that “we realize at some point it will be necessary if we want to adequately serve this market.” Tidewater Telephone Employees CU currently has two offices – one each in Virginia Beach and Hampton, Va. Emory said the credit union will probably open a couple of storefront branches and continue to use the 4,700-square foot building it owns in Virginia Beach as its headquarters. As for products and services, she said the credit union is already very high tech and “there aren’t many products we don’t offer.” She said Tidewater Telephone Employees does not offer business lending and is not interested in getting involved in it. Emory said the credit union plans to announce the FOM expansion first to its existing members “so they’ll know not only that their relatives can join, but also their friends and neighbors.” After that, Tidewater Telephone Employees CU will market to the areas in the vicinity of its two offices. “Once we’ve done that, we’ll make decisions about marketing in the new communities and neighborhoods we can serve,” said Emory. -

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