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ROCKVILLE, Md. — A brand new credit union devoted to serving people who work with perhaps that most tangible of assets will soon stake a unique claim in the virtual world.When it opens in May, REALTORS FCU will be the first Internet-based credit union to serve the members of a single, nationwide association without branches, according to the NCUA.Created to serve the 1.2 million or so members of the National Association of Realtors, the credit union will operate from an office in the Washington suburb of Rockville and offer its services through telephone, Internet and, if necessary, snail mail-but no branches.A collection of brand-name, third-party vendors is being assembled by a staff of 11 people to get things ready for the spring launch, led by a credit union veteran with a demonstrated lack of aversion to challenge.Tom Glatt was hired away from Arizona-based Continental FCU, where he led that credit union’s successful, heated and much-publicized repulsion of Wings Financial FCU’s attempted takeover. He also is former president of Counter Intelligence Associates, a firm founded by his wife, Diane Johnson, and said his decision to move across the country was prompted in part by being able to spend more time with his wife.Glatt’s hiring and the launch of the new credit union “are a cause for celebration among all our members,” said NAR President Charles McMillan, “because this credit union is tailor-made to accommodate the work habits and lifestyles of real estate agents, most of whom are independent contractors compensated by commissions.”Accommodating that economic fact of life, primarily the fluctuating income of real estate agents, will be reflected in the new credit union’s lending and other practices, said Glatt, the president/CEO of the newly chartered REALTORS FCU.“Most Realtors are self-employed and if you’ve ever been self-employed and gone to a bank to get a loan, and you pushed that tax return across the desk…well, we won’t expect our members to explain themselves to us,” Glatt said.“Does that mean we’ll be a welfare or giveaway program? Absolutely not, but we will have a different product line and different underwriting standards than 99% of the credit unions out there,” he said.“We’ll have empathy. I think that’s the best way to put it,” Glatt said.The credit union also has goals, one of which is to grow quickly. The business plan calls for the new CU to reach $100 million in assets and 24,000 members at the end of its first year, and $1 billion and 100,000 members in five years.“Most of the time with credit unions our biggest fear is that we’ll give a party and nobody comes,” Glatt said. “Our fear this time is that we’ll throw a party and everybody will come.”The credit union plans to roll out, in phases, checking, savings and money market accounts, vehicle loans, secured and unsecured loans, first and second mortgages and equity lines and debit cards, and its infrastructure chief said preparations are well under way.“I see this as equal parts challenge and opportunities,” said the new CU’s chief information officer, Jesse Boyer. “We don’t have any members or assets yet, but we also don’t have any bad loans to worry about or bad data to move from one system to another. We also don’t have to deal with cash.”Boyer, who came to the new organization after 12 years with $2.5 billion Bank-Fund Staff FCU, and Glatt are now putting together a delivery system that includes:Hosted core processing on the Symitar Episys platform, Online banking on CheckFree’s Corillian system, Member service from PSCU Financial Services’ Total Member Care 7/24 contact centers, Remote check capture and related services from WesCorp and CO-OP Financial Services, Internet hosting from American Technology Services, and Web site design by L9.com.“I know we have a very aggressive growth program, but we’re not going to grow so quickly that we impair our service levels,” Glatt said. “And even though we know most of that is outsourced, we will take responsibility for the performance of our vendors, because when members have problems, it’s not with our vendors, it’s with us. We know we have to manage our growth so those things don’t happen.”Along with its lending policies, the credit union also can be sure its Web site will fit its members’ unique needs, according to the man directing its creation.“We’re building in a behavioral-based piece that lets us focus on the members’ behavior and presents them product and service offerings in a meaningful way,” said Dave Mayette at L9.com, a Vermont-based CUSO.“Because we can do things nowadays like using a Google search word and presenting a Web page specific to that term, we can do something-theoretically-like showing a Realtor looking online for a car loan in Portland, Oregon, their credit union site and the rates it can offer,” he said.“It’s going to be very tuned and very friendly toward that member’s needs, including messaging and all the other bells and whistles of what we think is the strongest content management infrastructure out there,” Mayette said.He also made it clear this isn’t going to be just another Web site nor is it just another job.“We’re very thankful to be given this opportunity,” he said. “It has the potential to be a change agent for our industry. We’re hoping it’s going to be a very smart and demonstrable way to lead the industry to a fuller embrace of the Internet as a delivery channel.”Boyer is confident it will be just that.“Once our vendors get over the initial shock of dealing with a credit union that has no tellers, that doesn’t deal with cash, that has no branches, once they understand our delivery system and weed out all those things that aren’t relevant, like [we did], they’ll see that we really are the credit union of the future,” said the new credit union’s CIO.“We truly believe that we will be able to deliver a member experience online that is as good as the traditional branch experience,” Boyer said.And at less cost. “Just one example,” he said. “We’re in the fortunate position of being one of the few institutions that doesn’t have to move toward a paperless environment. We’re starting up that way. We’re green as heck!”While it’s among the first financial institutions with such a “virtual presence,” don’t expect it to be the last, said Mayette at L9.com. Prior to REALTORS FCU, he worked with $26 million International Airline Employees FCU (www.iaefcu.org) on Long Island to be a completely branchless CU, for instance, and he expects there to be more leaning that way.“When we first incorporated back in 1995, there was no commercial Web,” he said. “But where it’s going now in the next five to 10 years, I can’t help but feel that the industry is going to embrace this channel more and more, because it’s such a competitive advantage.”–[email protected]

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