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SAN JOSE, Calif. – Part of the promise behind the launch of a membership relationship program in 1996 by Meriwest Credit Union was to reward members based on their level of loyalty, but after nearly a decade, some changes were in order. It’s not because the program wasn’t a success – the $949 million CU saw between 10% to 15% migration up in tiers, which offered members access to incentives based on balance levels, said Julie Kirsch, chief operating officer. Some of the offerings were just a bit “antiquated,” she added. The new program aptly called “Relationship Advantage,” has undergone an “extreme makeover.” Now members can not only earn free ATM access, free checks with free bill pay, but interest rate reduction on auto and home equity line of credit rates. A homeowner tier has been added to encourage members to open their first mortgage with Meriwest with incentives such as money applied to closing costs and other discounts. The five tier levels are Classic for those with $25,000 in combined balances; Prime for $25,000 to $49,999; Premium for $50,000 to $99,999; Elite for $100,000; and the Homeowner Advantage. Kirsch said even if the CU has a 2% migration up in tiers, it will “break even.” “We looked at the things members may want and need during their life cycles,” Kirsch said. “When you model it out, it justified the cost but (the program) waned over the years because we didn’t provide the care and feeding along the way.” When the program was originally launched nearly a decade ago, the premise was “people should be treated differently in the credit union industry.” “It’s not always intuitive,” Kirsch said. “Whether it’s 20% of members providing 80% of business, there’s always going to be members that are participating more than others. There should be some differences on how they’re approached.” Founded in 1961, Meriwest was chartered as IBM San Jose Employees Federal Credit Union. Fourteen years later, it changed its name to Pacific IBM Employees Federal Credit Union and added seven additional states to its membership base. In 1993, it received NCUA approval to add select employer groups outside of IBM. In 1998, it changed its charter from federal to state and for the first time surpassed the $500 million in assets mark. The name change to Meriwest Credit Union came in 1999. Over the years, it added several counties to its field of membership. Last year, it merged with Silicon Valley Credit Union and expanded its presence in the Bay Area Peninsula area adding four branches to its fold. The CU now serves nearly 70,000 members. Meriwest has rolled out ambitious programs over the years including 2005′s business banking program and Meriwest Mortgage in 1993. According to the credit union, the mortgage program became its largest asset as the result of a substantial increase in first-time home buying and refinancing. Even with the successes Meriwest has experienced since its founding, shooting to become a member’s primary or only financial institution may be a lofty goal, Kirsch admitted. “We’re a community-based chartered credit union. We have some good reasons why people should bring their business to us (but) it’s a difficult goal to make (the CU) the only financial institution” because there are a lot of institutions competing for members’ attention, Kirsch said. [email protected]

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