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PENSACOLA, Fla. – For more than 50 years, the bulk of the members of what was then Monsanto Employees Credit Union were employees at the nylon producing facility of Monsanto Chemical Company. But like many plants, which during its heyday employed 85,000 people and was one of the top employers in Escambia County here, it fell on extremely hard times. Today, its employee roster has dwindled down to less than 1,500 and it has spun off an affiliate company, Solutia, Inc. The company filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003, overwhelmed by huge liabilities related to environmental lawsuits and employee benefits it has said were forced upon it by Monsanto. Earlier this month, Monsanto agreed to invest up to $250 million in its former chemicals affiliate that will allow Solutia to emerge from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Monsanto Employees CU sought a way out of the company’s upheavals by expanding its charter in 2002 and changing its name to Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union. Many of Monsanto employees that retired or were laid off had large lump sum payments and were looking for a place to park the money, said Chris Rutledge, GWFCU president/CEO. “Looking at our demographics, members over the age of 55 made up about 20% of our membership,” Rutledge said. “For a number of years, they had asked the credit union (if it would offer investment and retirement planning services). When I came aboard in 2002, it became a part of our strategic plan to do this.” The plan came to fruition on April 4 when the $281 million credit union launched its Gulf Winds Financial Services division. Members now have access to brokerage and insurance services, including mutual funds, annuities, stocks and bonds. These services are provided exclusively through Raymond James Financial Services, Inc., a member of the National Association of Securities Dealers and a wholly owned subsidiary of Raymond James Financial, Inc. Through Raymond James, members will work with Bob Alft, a former investment consultant with Sun Trust Securities, Inc. The differences between working for the billion dollar, Atlanta-based bank and GWFCU were immediately apparent, Alft said. “It’s stockholders versus members,” he said. “It means working with any member in an open, non-proprietary and consultative environment. It’s very refreshing.” Alft will be based here and will make appointments with members at GWFCU’s seven branches. In the nearly three months since the new division’s launch, most of its business has come from annuity and mutual fund sales, Rutledge said. Through direct mail and word of mouth, some residuals have come in, Alft added. Rutledge said the market here for investment services is competitive but the credit union’s close and long ties to the community have helped to drive the early successes of the division. “Being a single sponsor for so many years, our members have a lot of trust and faith in the organization,” Rutledge said. “In my estimation, if you’re looking for somewhere (for investment and retirement planning services), you’re probably not going to look to the new company that has a new ad in the newspaper. You’re going to go with someone you know and trust.” Alft said because Raymond James does indeed have a trust services division, those services will also be available for members who request them. All of the financial services will be available to any of GWFCU’s more than 32,300 members in Pensacola, Milton and Atmore here but a targeted marketing campaign might be launched to “make sure (the services) are put in front of the right folks.” Going from a state to a federal charter has opened up another window for GWFCU. Rutledge said they were “stuck” because it wanted to serve residents in nearby Alabama but its state charter prevented it from crossing the state’s line. More than 95% of the members who voted were in favor of expansion, he added. “Many had worked at the plant so they really understood what we were trying to do,” Rutledge said. Alft said his role is to assist members in three distinct ways: “to help accumulate assets, manage those assets and then pass them on in an effective manner,” he explained. “When we look at their motivation, we know what our motivation is – it’s not our profits, it’s their’s,” Rutledge said. [email protected]

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