Small Change Makes A Big Difference At St. Mary’s

The New Hampshire credit union’s 603 checking program will donate up to $20,000 to four area charities in its first year alone.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • The 603 account at St. Mary’s Bank pays 6.03 cents to one of four charities in New Hampshire with every swipe of a debit card.
  • The credit union has committed to donating up to $5,000 to each category and will announce donations every year on June 3.

America’s first credit union has rolled out a creative checking concept that’s gaining ground and members.

The 603 account from St. Mary’s Bank in New Hampshire ($1.5 billion, Manchester, NH)  is designed to boost membership as well as benefit organizations that support the local community.

“This account is a great extension of what we already do as an organization,” says Ken Senus, who currently serves as executive vice president of St. Mary’s but will take the helm as CEO at the first of the year. “Giving our members the power to give to a charity that’s important to them.”

That’s exactly what the new account does — gives members control over charitable giving.

For every purchase an accountholder makes with their 603 debit card, St. Mary’s will pay 6.03 cents to one of four charities in New Hampshire. Those charities fall into one of four categories — animals, children and families, the environment, and food and shelter — that members can select for their contributions.

“These are the types of charities most in need and most important to members in and around New Hampshire,” says Senus, adding that determining the categories for giving was the easy part. “We have a paid day for employees to go out into the community and do volunteer work every year. These categories fit into where our employees volunteer their time.”

Ken Senus, EVP, St.Mary’s Bank

The credit union has committed to donating up to $5,000 to each category and will announce total donation amounts and recipient organizations every year on June 3, a date marked numerically as 6/03.

Why the numerical namesake? It has a special “ring” to it.

Although St. Mary’s Bank existed for close to 40 years before telephone area codes were implemented in October 1947, St. Mary’s and the state’s 603 area code have both become staples of New Hampshire.

“We can tie together 603 and charitable giving,” Senus says.

St. Mary’s leaders feel good about the categories and how the variety allows members to focus on something close to their heart. However, the recipients in each category can change from year-to-year, Senus says. For this first year, until June 3, 2023, the credit union will distribute donations to the New Hampshire SPCA (animals), Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) in New Hampshire (children and families), Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests (environment), and the New Hampshire Food Bank (food and shelter).

St. Mary’s 603 was the brainchild of Senus, who earlier this year was inspired by white papers about various checking account types. The EVP thought the credit union might need to diversify or expand its offerings as a way to grow or retain members.

“Every credit union is looking at their member base,” Senus says. “Baby Boomers are getting older, and this is a great way to grow the member base while also giving back.”

The more Senus studied the paths various credit unions were taking with their expanded checking offerings, the more he noticed a consistent pattern he knew St. Mary’s didn’t want to follow for the sake of simplicity.

Every credit union is looking at their member base. This is a great way to grow the member base while also giving back.

Ken Senus, EVP, St.Mary’s Bank

“Other credit unions were using a percentage of interchange,” the EVP explains. “We figured that would be harder to explain to members, so we went with the $0.0603.”

For members who have a hard time selecting a single category, St. Mary’s will allow them to change it.

“We saw a need out there,” Senus says. “Some of our current checking account holders are going to migrate into this account. It’s a good way for them to choose something that’s close to their heart.”

That’s the community aspect. As Senus intended, the checking account also provides an opportunity for St. Mary’s to grow its member base.

“People are moving to the big four banks because of their digital offerings,” Senus says. “Not only do we have comparable digital capabilities, we now we have something extra to offer to keep them local and to give back local.”

Keeping it local and supporting local economies is something inherently ingrained in most credit unions. For Senus – who made his home in New Hampshire beginning in 2017 after starting his banking career in audit, then IT and operations in nearby Rhode Island – these values are especially personal.


St. Mary’s Bank
DATA AS OF 09.30.22

HQ: Manchester, NH
MEMBERS: 98,325
NET WORTH: 8.04%
ROA: 0.79%

Senus is part of a statewide organization called Stay, Work, Play New Hampshire that works to increase others’ appreciation of local resources and strengthen the economy. As Senus explains, it’s not just about shouting from the rooftops how beautiful New Hampshire is or how it’s a great place to ski.

“We want families to grow up here and for kids to stay for college,” he says. “Too many times they leave for college or a career takes them somewhere else. New Hampshire is a great place to play, but it’s also a great place to stay.”

Launching the account was easier than some might anticipate, Senus says. The IT team handled all of the core system work in-house, using user-defined fields within the account type to create the categories that members choose. After launching in August, the 603 account has already garnered an additional $600,000 in deposits and 254 new member accounts.

St. Mary’s has done very little to promote the account so far, but that’s on purpose.

“We wanted to see how this was received as a soft launch,” Senus says. “If it resonates with any of our members, then it’s an easy conversion.”

In the coming months, the credit union plans to promote its 603 account heavily on social media, targeting millennials and Gen Z.

St. Mary’s Bank has a history of doing things in its own, creative way. It was the nation’s first financial cooperative, even pre-dating the term “credit union.” And it was operational six years before Alexander Graham Bell made the first transcontinental phone call in January 1915, placing a call from New York to San Francisco. Now, the credit union is at it again, using an area code to connect with members and helping members to connect financially with their community. At 6.03 cents per swipe, that’s real change making a real difference.

Lead With Purpose

Rethink your credit union’s role and responsibility to members, employees, communities, and the environment with Sustainable Business Strategy , a learning experience that Callahan & Associates offers in collaboration with Harvard Business School Online. Registration is now open for the January 2023 cohort.


December 5, 2022

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