There are 172 credit unions in the United States that serve 25 million members of the Armed Forces. These credit unions range in size from the formidable Navy FCU — with $110 billion in assets — to smaller cooperatives with a more narrowly defined field of membership, such as Forbes Field Credit Union with $5.7 million in assets.
This Veterans Day, see how military credit unions stack up to the industry as a whole. Read “Military Credit Unions Lead The Way On Veterans Day” on CreditUnions.com.
At first glance, these 172 cooperatives might not seem to have a lot in common, but they all are working to deliver real benefits to military members, veterans, and their families.
Here, six credit unions offer best practices and tried-and-true tips to better serve and support those who serve.
Making Lives Easier
For Service Credit Union ($3.7B, Portsmouth, NH), serving military members is all about making their lives easier and providing the best benefits available.
Lori Holmes, Assistant VP of Marketing and Communications, Service Credit Union
"Our military members are busy serving our country,” says Lori Holmes, assistant vice president of marketing and communications at the credit union. “That’s why we look for ways to streamline products and provide them with benefits that are easy for them to receive.”
Those benefits include earning 10% APY on a Deployed Warrior Savings Account when in a designated combat zone. Other checking account options offer perks such as ATM fee rebates up to$30 and a 0.75% discount on an auto or personal loan.
Service also offers Readiness Pack Loans of up to $2,500 for military members to use for moving expenses or other necessities. And, when members maintain at least a partial direct deposit with the credit union, they’re automatically eligible for loan discounts and the best checking account the cooperative offers.
Focusing On Families In A Blended Community
Serving military members and their families is intertwined with a community focus at Northern Credit Union ($277.9M, Watertown, NY). Locally, Fort Drum has brought a lot of military members and veterans to the cooperative. It’s a transient area, and the bases has one of the higher rates of deployment. However, many people decide to stay in the region — which is approximately four hours from Niagara Falls — after transitioning back to civilian life.
Christine Booth, VP of Member Relations, Northern Credit Union
“Fort Drum has no on-post schools, so the children attend our public schools and most use our community healthcare system,” says Christine Booth, Nothern’s vice president of member relations. “When we serve our community and schools, we're serving those soldiers’ children.”
For military members, the credit union has been offering VA mortgage loans since 2010 and to date has made $17.9 million in loans to help 103 families. Northern also offers a 90-day, 0% interest furlough assistance loan to support military personnel in the event of a government shutdown.
The credit union also works with the USO’s Pathfinder group to assist military personnel in the transition to civilian life. Its Equity Advantage mortgage works like a VA loan and offers up to 103% financing along with a 6% seller concession that allows borrowers to roll in closing costs and avoid paying a funding fee or private mortgage insurance. It’s an alternative solution for veterans and military members who might not qualify for a VA mortgage.
But Northern offers military perks in less dramatic, more everyday ways, too.
“We provide special parking for veterans and active duty military at our branch just outside Fort Drum,” says Dan Estal, vice president of lending. “These are just a few of the ways we show how proud we are to serve the men and women who serve this nation.”
Understanding Member Needs
When Navy Federal Credit Union ($110.1B, Vienna, VA) wants a deeper understanding of the military members it serves, all it has to do is ask one of the many military spouses it employs. And although this is not the sole means of gathering market insight, those employees have helped the largest credit union in the United States shape a definition of service.
CU QUICK FACTS
HQ: Vienna, VA
Data as of 09.30.19
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 20.0%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 10.1%
“Service means being there when they need us,” says Jaspreet Chawla, vice president of membership for Navy Federal.
To this end, the world’s largest credit union offers 24/7 call center support, convenient mobile and online banking access, 335 branch location including 26 overseas, and a worldwide ATM network.
The credit union also offers support and guidance for this transient membership during inflection points such as enlisting, relocating (or “PCSing,” which stands for permanent change of station), deploying, and transitioning to civilian life.
To aid members during these stages, Navy offers checklists and bite-size resources as well as tailored products such as its Free Active Duty Checking that provides early direct deposit, free checks, and up to $20 in ATM rebates.
Navy Federal also looks at its members’ entire financial picture so the credit union can serve as a partner for individuals and families. In addition to teaching financial literacy, the cooperative encourages its members to create positive habits. For example, if a member is close to paying off a car loan, the credit union recommends saving part of that recurring debit amount.
Taking A Leadership Role
Serving military families and veterans, along with the broader civilian communities that support the base, has always been a focus for Fort Knox Federal Credit Union ($1.7B, Radcliff, KY). The credit union offers a worldwide network of ATMs, recognizes direct deposits up to two days early, and provides on-post locations. It also has taken on a leadership role in the area of financial health.
Ray Springsteen, CEO, Fort Knox FCU
“We’re making long-term, impactful investments in our military and in our community,” says Ray Springsteen, chief executive officer of Fort Knox FCU.
In January, the credit union rolled out the Vault, an interactive financial literacy program with EVERFI that empowers students to make smart financial decisions, at a local school that primarily serves military children.
“With Kentucky ranked 45th in financial literacy, these investments are vital,” Springsteen says.
In terms of direct military support, the credit union and its members donate approximately $70,000 annually to USA Cares, a non-profit that assists military families in crisis. In 2019, the credit union’s on-post team helped double pledges during Military Saves Week and the cooperative offers online and in-person financial education resources designed specifically for veterans. The annual Veterans 2 Entrepreneurs workshop, hosted by Fort Knox FCU in partnership with the Kentucky Small Business Development Center, provides mission critical information to help Veterans build and grow their small businesses.
Veterans programs, financial wellness, and food donation are three ways this Kentucky credit union serves its local citizens. Read more in “More Than Money: How Fort Knox FCU Makes A Community Impact.”
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Springsteen. “Looking ahead to 2020, we’re going to be investing even more in military and community financial health.”
Providing Financial Education
The military represents a majority of members and is large part of the cooperative identity of Frontwave Credit Union ($891.8M, Oceanside, CA), which until 2018 was known as Pacific Marine Credit Union.
Todd Kern, CMO, Frontwave Credit Union
“We serve not only our marines and their families but also the communities that support those marines,” says Todd Kern, chief marketing officer of Frontwave.
In conjunction with the expansion of its on-base presence, the credit union also has expanded the financial education it offers both military and community members, educating groups in both classroom and one-on-one settings. And like the members its serves, Frontwave’s military relations team is an active group. Its members participated in 88 events in the month of September and connected with 7,000 marines.
From how to use a bank account or loan product responsibly to buying a home and preventing fraud, Frontwave is on the front lines of financial wellness, with certified financial educators providing the information and counseling young marines need.
“An educated consumer is healthy for our membership, our community, and our credit union,” Kern says. “Whether a member is starting out or moving up, we’re there to help make financial dreams come true.”
Supporting Active Duty Family Members
For ARC Federal Credit Union ($90.0M, Altoona, PA), working with local organizations to support the military is deeply personal. Earlier this year, the credit union partnered with Military Families Ministry to provide care packages to servicemembers abroad.
Liesl Kapfhammer, Marketing Coordinator, ARC FCU
“Some of our staff have active duty family members who mentioned how impactful the care packages from Military Families Ministry were,” says Liesl Kapfhammer, ARC’s marketing coordinator.
The credit union promoted its Socks for Soldiers drive throughout the summer, collecting black crew and ankle socks at both branch locations as well as at the gates of three local MiLB baseball games with the Altoona Curve. As an organization with local roots, Military Family Ministry tries to ensure items ship to soldiers stationed abroad but from the credit union’s home area.
In terms of helping other credit unions find the right community partners, Kapfhammer suggests credit unions look to their members and staff.
“See what matters most to them and what they feel passionate about,” the marketing coordinator says. “One of the things that sets credit unions apart is our connections to our members. A great way to build those connections is to support the things that our members care about.”