3 Ways To Give Thanks For Members … And 1 Way To Appreciate Employees

Rising rates, soaring inflation, and an unstable economy could make for a grim holiday season, but CreditUnions.com has inspiring stories of credit unions bringing joy to others.

The first Black woman was confirmed to a seat on the United States Supreme Court.

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or 988, began operating across the country, putting assistance just a phone call away for those suffering from mental health crises.

COVID-19 vaccinations crossed the 1 billion mark as the world works to move past the pandemic.

These are just three positive events that occurred in 2022. But with rising interest rates, soaring inflation, and the global economy in an upheaval, it can be easy to overlook all the positive things happening across the country. The stories below featured this year on CreditUnions.com are reminders of all the ways credit unions are making a positive impact on members and communities. That’s their way of saying “thank you” for continuing to support the cooperative financial model.

Say ‘No Thanks’ To Fees

United Federal Credit Union ($3.9B, St. Joseph, MI) wasn’t fooling around when it chose April 1, 2022, as its effective date for eliminating overdraft protection and non-sufficient fund fees. The Michigan-based cooperative — which operates through 41 branches in six states — also slashed its courtesy pay fee from $35 to $20 for its nearly 191, 000 members.

Meanwhile, Amplify Credit Union ($1.5B, Austin, TX) has eliminated all banking fees on all deposit products for all 58,014 of its individual and business members. The Texas cooperative began publicizing that that on Feb. 2 — turning Groundhog Day into “Fee Free Day” and ending a cycle of financially vulnerable members, in particular, paying such fees over and over again.

“Members don’t hate fees because they cost too much,” says Stacy Armijo, chief experience officer at Amplify. “Members hate fees because they feel being charged for them is wrong.”

Both cooperatives are part of a trend toward lowering or eliminating a lot of those so-called punitive forms of non-interest income, including by some of the major national banks earlier this year.

Armijo says her cooperative’s decision is the culmination of a journey into behavioral economics that began three years ago when Amplify commissioned research on consumers’ motivations around checking and savings accounts. More than 1,000 miles away, Terry O’Rourke, president and CEO of United, says his credit union’s motivation for eliminating and reducing overdraft fees was simple — it was the right thing to do.

Read more in “2 Ways To Approach Fee Relief For Members.” 

Give A Lot For A Little

Question: What kind of credit union would add a $5 monthly fee to a checking account and make members opt out if they don’t like it?

Answer: TCT Federal Credit Union ($295.4M, Ballston Spa, NY).

The upstate New York cooperative’s bold move last September might seem counterintuitive, but it represents a doubling down on mission.

That’s because TCT’s Peace of Mind checking offers a long list of features along with that $5 monthly maintenance fee. The checking account includes debit card roundup to build savings, identity theft protection, monthly credit scores, and — crucially — automatic courtesy overdraft services and sharply reduced non-sufficient fund (NSF) and overdraft fees, from $25 for each to $5 for the NSF and $7 for the overdrafts.

It also includes free money orders, statement and canceled check copies, and account research. These services can cost up $10 for users of TCT’s traditional checking account, but it’s the automatic courtesy overdraft, up to $400, and reduced punitive fees that might be the most crucial piece.

“Since inception, Peace of Mind checking has provided roughly $10,000 in additional net income while putting roughly $12,000 worth of punitive fees back into our members’ pockets,” says Jean Dudley, TCT’s director of operations support services.

Learn more in “Fees With Benefits? TCT FCU Makes It Work.”

Pony Up For Patronage

During a time that has presented no shortage of economic uncertainties, credit unions that pay out dividends and rebates do so while balancing the tradition against their own financial realities.

The third cooperative principle encourages credit unions to reward members for their participation. Indeed, credit unions do that every day in the form of better rates, lower fees, and community impact.  But many go above and beyond that.

Returning value in the form of a patronage dividend is a powerful tool to say “thank you” for members’ continuing, and deepening, loyalty.

Total dividends have declined during the era of COVID, but credit unions haven’t stopped giving back to their members. Stable capitalization and an overall healthy balance sheet allowed the industry to invest in staff, products, and services. Although tangible rewards like dividends have thinned, credit union relief efforts and internal investments have rewarded members in new ways.

To learn more about how credit union dividends have shifted over time and what might be around the corner, read “Dividends Have Slipped, But Is A Turnaround On The Horizon?”  [https://creditunions.com/blogs/industry-insights/dividends-have-slipped-but-is-a-turnaround-on-the-horizon/]

And For Employees: Boost Their Bottom Lines

When Atomic Credit Union ($532.5M, Piketon, OH) raised its pay scale by an inflation-fighting $4 per hour this year, leaders weren’t expecting such an immediate, dramatic response.

More than 300 people applied online for jobs within the first two days of the public announcement that Atomic had raised its starting pay to $17 an hour. That puts the southern Ohio cooperative just below the median wage for tellers nationwide, which according to NAFCU was $17.45 in 2021.

But the increase was not just for new staffers. All but three of the credit union’s 210 employees received the raise, which bumped up the average salary at Atomic to $25 an hour. This included the three member service representatives who had turned in their two-week notices but then rescinded their resignations after CEO Tom Griffiths announced the change to the branch.

The bump in pay has increased the cooperative’s expenses by approximately $150,000 a month, but Griffiths, who first joined Atomic nearly 30 years ago and has been at the helm for 20 years, says the investment is “absolutely” worth it.

“We need to keep great employees and reward them for their efforts,” the CEO says. “I was asked what we are going to cut to afford this decision. I replied, ‘We aren’t going to cut anything.’”

Instead, Griffiths points to the return for the credit union and its members.

“We’ll have highly motivated employees willing to step up and make this an even better credit union,” he says. “Let’s capitalize on it and ask for more loans, more members, and more checking accounts. Those are the most important revenue generators that will lessen the impact on the bottom line.”

Read more in “ Atomic Credit Union Raised Employee Pay And Received Glowing Reviews.”


November 21, 2022

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