In the Saginaw area, Catholic Federal displays a deep commitment to the communities and the Catholic flock.
Catholic FCU began in 1956 in the rectory of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Saginaw and then grew through new members and mergers. It expanded to encompass the 11 Michigan counties composing the Diocese of Saginaw. It can accept members of Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Saginaw, employees of the Diocese of Saginaw (or Catholic parishes) and employees of the Catholic schools who are either Catholic or non-Catholic, as well as relatives of members regardless of where they live or what their religion. The credit union serves 23,000 members and has over $210 million in assets.
You are pretty closely tied to the Diocese of Saginaw?
BL: Yes, our geographic area is the same as theirs. A few years ago, the credit union noted that other credit unions were converting to community charters so Catholic FCU wondered if it should convert as well. But during a planning session our Board and management decided to stay true to the credit union’s roots and stay primarily Catholic. One idea generated from not joining the mass exodus of local credit unions to community charters was to hire a Vice President of Business Development. Needless to say, I am that end result. I see a large part of my job as getting out into the diocese office, parishes, schools and their functions and telling people about our credit union.
What is the competition like?
BL: There are other small Catholic credit unions around but ours is the only one in the area with the word Catholic in the name. There are quite a few community charters here, and there are, of course, the banks.
What has been your approach to growing the credit union?
BL: I was hired two years ago to work on business development. When I began, there wasn’t an open relationship with the diocese, so we felt I should begin there. I set out to meet the people at the diocesan offices, Bishop Robert Carlson, the chancellor, Nancy Werner, the CFO, Brian Buckingham and the diocesan development department. I spend so much time there they joked I should have an office in their building. I also put in a good deal of time becoming acquainted with the priests and staff at the parishes. We’ve put in a lot of time with the secretaries and business managers. Also, I work closely with Bethany Dutcher, our VP of Marketing.
Does the diocese then support you well?
BL: They really do and we support them in return. The diocese promotes our credit union. When the new bishop arrived he joined right away and he sends all the new seminarians to us to open accounts.
We also worked hard to win the parish accounts. We offered them free courier service, free checking, free checks, ACH so that parishioners could make their donations electronically, online banking and so forth. We started a tradition of parish lunches – twice a year we hold a lunch for the pastors and the parish staff and thank them for taking care of our members. We use more of a soft sell to parish staff and parishioners for joining the credit union.
Do you leave marketing materials at the parish offices?
We have to be careful and respectful in that regard. Parish board members and other parish volunteers may either work or belong to another financial institution. But nevertheless, we try to let everyone know the benefits of being a member at Catholic Federal and how they can avail themselves of membership with us.
Tell us about your operations.
BL: We have a main office and four branches, plus two school branches in Catholic high schools. The high school branches (one of which also serves a grade school) are open once a week during lunch hours and are used by students and teachers. We do not participate in shared branching. We belong to the CO-OP Network and Alliance One for ATMs. We offer free bill payer and e-statements. Members can apply for loans online. Most of our lending is consumer loans, including auto loans. We also write small business loans, mortgages and signature loans.
In ways other than the above, how does your credit union connect with Catholics?
BL: Our slogan is “Having faith in a credit union has never been so easy.” Another slogan we use is “For a better life, the bond we share.” When people see our name and read our slogans, they understand we are deeply committed to the Catholic community.
We also have a vigorous program of donating to local Catholic and community causes — we are known around the community for our commitment and dedication. We team with the Diocese of Saginaw’s Catholic Community Foundation of Mid-Michigan (CCFMM). The credit union committed up to $250,000 a year, for two years, in matching funds to the Foundation. This was a success and the Board decided to continue a $120,000 a year matching gift program.
We sponsor community and parish festivals, runs, concerts, golf outings and other activities. We also provide breakfasts and lunches for Catholic schools if they are celebrating a championship, Catholic Schools Week or staff development days.
Having said all this, I’ll note that the logo we present on our credit cards is a globe rather than a strictly Catholic image; non-Catholics are important members of our credit union.
How about the values of your credit union?
BL: Of course, we work very hard to project the kinds of values the Catholic faith itself projects. Empathy is very important in the Catholic Church and we stress empathy here at the credit union as well. Projecting the people-helping-people philosophy finds a very favorable response among our members and prospective members. We show that we really are working hard to deliver high savings rates and low loan rates, and that our fees, if any, are as low as possible. We also show that because we are a cooperative we are of course not interested in a making a profit, that we want more members not to make more money but rather to help more people in the community and then to pass money back into the community.
We also demonstrate that we look beyond ourselves and our membership. We evaluate grant requests from non-denominational as well as Catholic-related non-profit organizations in the community and donate $30,000 a year to them.
Do members join the credit union because of your products, your philosophy, or your Catholic orientation?
BL: Some people telephone us and after being told that we are strongly Catholic-oriented sign up for that reason alone. But others are attracted by the value of our products and services and by the values we project in the community. For five years in a row, we have been voted “Best of the Best” credit union in our area.
When people come into the office, they see a truly caring environment. Staff is motivated by our faith. It’s a wonderful place to work because staff and members understand our philosophy. And, they live it. Our rule, created by Robert R. Adams, CEO of Catholic Federal for the last 41 years, is to treat all members with dignity and sensitivity and this is obvious every day. We also offer free financial counseling; we really work hard to help members and to make their lives better. They respond to that; they know we aren’t trying to sell them something they don’t need but rather are sincerely trying to help make their lives better.