In 1951, my parents, William and Catherine Miller, started a credit union in our home. It was an educational CU which served the school employees of about seven communities in our county. For a number of years it operated out of a metal cashbox on our kitchen table. The books were kept on paper in ink. Members had passbooks. In a few years one of the local high schools had a disaster in which a leaky roof caused a brand new gym floor to be torn up and thrown away. My father and I borrowed a small truck and salvaged all the wood we could. It was used to panel the walls of our basement which became the credit union office. My mother refinished the wood by hand.
People of all races, religions, and backgrounds came to our home and either sat at the kitchen table or went down to the basement to make deposits and get small loans and advice from my parents who at the time were both volunteers just like the board, the supervisory committee and the credit committee. The examiners came in and sealed the records safe with their blue stickers so the records could not be altered during the exam. They worked for the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions, which I think was somewhere in the Department of Agriculture.
They also sat at our kitchen table and had lunch while talking about credit unions. Eventually we got a bookkeeping machine and started producing member statements which were ripped off the back of ledgers and stuffed in envelopes and mailed. We acquired used fireproof storage for the ledgers and books. Eventually, when the time was right, we acquired a fairly derelict building which my parents and I and volunteers renovated and turned into a free-standing office.
New machines were acquired. The first computer was an IBM wire board-based machine in which you changed out the boards to perform different functions. The credit union grew and served many people.
Eventually the credit union outgrew the small building and built a slightly larger new building while selling the old one to another small CU that had lost its office space in the sponsor’s plant. They still occupy it to this day. We grew. Again we outgrew the second building and acquired two-thirds of an 1880s bank building and occupied one-and-a-half floors of the building. The previous building was sold to a larger credit union which wanted a branch in the area.
We now have the whole bank building and two branches in rental properties. We serve almost 20,000 members and have assets in excess of $75 million. We have almost 50 staff and offer virtually any service you can imagine except business accounts.
We still after all these years still focus exclusively on individual people. We have become a multi-SEG credit union through about fifteen mergers over the years and have taken in our entire county as an underserved area. We have been designated a low-income credit union and adopted risk based pricing so that we can lend to anyone from platinum through E credit.
We had a 1%-plus ROA in 2012 and expect a 1.5% plus ROA in 2013 serving this population.
If it weren’t for the kitchen table and the basement and the volunteers none of this would exist and at least 50% of our members would be using payday lenders and loan sharks. Every credit union needs a place to start. It cannot always be in a commercial building.
Jim Miller Sr., CUDE
Liberty Savings FCU
Jersey City, N.J.