Small credit unions say they can thrive by using the personal touch

Jeffrey Goff

A few years ago, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission launched a program that allowed employees to earn work-related certifications to help boost their careers. WSSC paid for the certification program, but there was a catch: employees had to pay up front before being reimbursed.

The workers turned to the help of the WSSC Federal Credit Union, which offered to cover the initial costs, allowing members to work toward the appreciated certifications.

“We know our members and are very responsive to their needs,” credit union CEO Jeffrey Goff said, recalling the incident. “We can provide them with special services, services that meet their particular needs. »

Seventy-three credit unions are headquartered in Maryland, with more than 250 branches, 2.02 million customers and $33.53 billion in assets, according to

Jim Whipp

creditunionsonline.com, which provides data on credit unions in Maryland and nationwide. Nine of Maryland’s credit unions each have more than $1 billion in assets.

The largest, the State Employees Credit Union, or SECU, of Maryland, has been around since 1951 and today has $4.8 billion in assets and nearly 250,000 members.

At the other end of the spectrum, the state also has dozens of smaller credit unions, including the WSSC Federal Credit Union, with about $34 million in assets and 3,700 members. Established in 1964, the credit union is open to WSSC workers and, since 2016, members and employees of Reid Temple Church in Glenn Dale.

Small credit unions fill an important niche, according to Goff and others.

“It’s about the level of service,” Goff said.

While Goff said his credit union makes a lot of loans, he pointed out that loan decisions aren’t automated but are made by employees. The credit union also has no minimum credit score, he said.

“We look beyond the credit score,” Goff said. “We work very hard to help people get out of any situation they might face.”

“For the most part, all financial institutions offer the same products and services,” said Lois Profili, CEO of First Eagle Federal Credit Union, based in Owings Mills. “We try to differentiate ourselves by offering a personalized service to our members.”

Profili said all First Eagle employees are trained to answer any questions a member may have.

“It allows us to take ownership and find a solution immediately,” she said. “Our members like that we know who they are and will respond when needed.”

First Eagle, with more than 8,000 members and nearly $112 million in assets, was founded in 1956 and today serves employees of several companies and institutions, including MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore.

Another small credit union, the Baltimore-based Five Star Federal Credit Union, was founded in 1969 as St. Agnes Federal Credit Union. It now has over 6,000 members from approximately 50 employers and $63 million in assets.

“Small credit unions, in our view, are the best check against big banks that take too much advantage of their customers,” said Jim Whipp, president and CEO of Five Star. “We offer a much more individualized service and pride ourselves on knowing our members.”

Whipp continued, “We can design our services for our specific groups, and we can also provide all the technology offered by larger institutions.”

He pointed to another key advantage of small credit unions: members have a say in their governance.

“Our members can run for our board, vote for the board and have access to management as a shareholder,” he said. “They are not just customers.

Whipp said a key challenge for smaller credit unions is balancing the need for growth with the desire to maintain close customer relationships.

“The financial services industry is getting more complicated and challenging every year, so we need to stay big enough to invest in our people, information security, service technology and many other areas,” he said. declared.

Tony Launi, president of the Rockville-based Capital Area Realtors Federal Credit Union, said customers of smaller credit unions are spared the hassle associated with big banks.

“Simple things like caller wait times are short or non-existent, promotions tend to be more personalized, and customers generally have direct access to the team they’re working with,” Launi said.

“When the average person thinks about calling their bank, they rarely talk to someone who really knows them,” he continued. “Whereas when people do business with a smaller credit union, they get personalized attention.”

Capital Area Realtors FCU, with assets of $23 million, serves realtors and their clients.

John Bratsakis, president and CEO of the MD|DC Credit Union Association, said all credit unions, regardless of size, are focused on helping their members.

“They were created to serve their communities, whether it’s an employer group or a faith community,” Bratsakis said.

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