Serving Members Internationally

Recently, First Resource Federal Credit Union in St. Joseph, Mich., a $328-million credit union with 41,000 members, was featured as a case study in the book Uniting North American Business: NAFTA Best Practices by international business consultants Jeffrey D. Abbott and Robert T. Moran, PhD.


Recently, First Resource Federal Credit Union in St. Joseph, Mich., a $328-million credit union with 41,000 members, was featured as a case study in the book Uniting North American Business: NAFTA Best Practices by international business consultants Jeffrey D. Abbott and Robert T. Moran, PhD.

The study reviews our credit union's international expatriot service to members living throughout the world. This is what Jeffrey Abbot says in his book:

First Resource Federal Credit Union
Key to any company's ability to successfully deploy personnel in expatriate assignments is their ability to deliver compensation and other critical payments to their international assignees in an efficient, cost-effective manner. Likewise, employees themselves need up-to-date, convenient, and reliable access to their compensation, as well as to their bank accounts and other financial services.
First Resource Federal Credit Union (, headquartered in Southwestern Michigan, is an outstanding example of a small financial services institution that broke its own rules in order to grow with its members as they entered the global economy. Originally, the Employee Credit Union of Whirlpool Corporation, a global manufacturer and marketer of home appliances headquartered in Benton Harbor, Michigan, the credit union was called upon to offer new services as Whirlpool's rapid global expansion resulted in it sending numerous employees on expatriate assignments around the world. FRFCU could have looked at the complexity this presented and declined the opportunity by referring their members to larger financial institutions better equipped to handle global banking needs. Instead, they realized that finding a way to meet their members' new needs presented a chance to grow FRFCU's competencies and profits.

Speed and Flexibility Are Key
FRFCU empowered their international personal banker, Marie Arend, to do whatever was necessary to serve their members on expatriate assignment. FRFCU did not have a template to follow at first and had to learn by doing. When member needs ran into rules and procedures, Arend was able to call upon senior management to break the glass and authorize the needed flexibility. Today, Arend and her team are able to offer a cost-effective set of personalized services that meet both employer and expatriate employee needs.
These services, unique to an institution of FRFCU's size, include those in the following sections.. . . .

Marie Arend and her team at FRFCU, and the expatriate banking services they offer, represent a NAFTA Best Practice because they demonstrate how a smaller organization can develop new services and sources of business by growing with its global members. The global NAFTA economy does not reserve its rewards only for large corporations, but rather offers opportunities to organizations like Express Relocation and FRFCU that posses the vision, speed, willingness to learn and change, and organizational flexibility necessary to embrace the future. 1

Perhaps an individual member example would shed more light on the credit union's international services. Recently we had a member who lived across state in Huntington Woods, Mich., and works for General Motors at their Tech Center. He told us he was being sent on GM to work in Melbourne, Australia, for two years. He was concerned he would have to close his accounts with us and open local accounts in Melbourne. But then he was told of our international services by a staff member and referred to Marie Arend.

The member maintained his checking account with ACH direct deposit at the credit union. He also set up monthly direct debit distributions from his checking account to his credit union money market account. He used his credit union VISA Gold card daily for merchant purchases, groceries and eating out. It was accepted virtually everywhere and converted the transactions to U.S. dollars through the VISA system. For access to cash from his savings and checking accounts, he used his credit union VISA Gold card, which also works as an ATM access card at literally hundreds of CIRRUS ATMs in Melbourne and throughout Australia. Again, the Australian currency is converted to U.S. dollars through the ATM network. Paying bills and transferring funds was also convenient through the use of PowerLink, our Internet banking product, and free electronic bill payment.

Through the networked services available, any credit union can provide these services via the VISA system, ACH system, ATM network, international wires through Fed Wire and the Internet. Using these networks, we are serving pockets of members who live in Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Russia, Australia, Singapore and China. This makes the concept of ''reasonable proximity'' somewhat of a moot point.

How else are we using international service beyond simply the value of the service to our members? We are waking up to the fact that if we can serve members in the global marketplace, this same convenience is available as a member retention tool for members who relocate or retire. In addition, we have begun to use international member services as a business development tool to both strengthen existing Select Employer Group relationships and attract new, larger SEGs who have employees living overseas.

Finally, these members are some of the most profitable members we have. They have an average products-per-household ratio of 5.5 versus our overall average of 3.8. In addition, their aggregate average loan and deposit balances are 40 percent higher than our overall memberships' aggregate balances.

These members are also fiercely loyal to the credit union. When you are one of the few links to home, the relationships you build with these members are close to that of family. Maybe that's why so many of them consider Marie Arend their second mother!




May 5, 2003



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