PARK FALLS, Wis. (5/23/08)--Growth doesn’t come easy in Wisconsin’s northwoods. Just ask Susan Schmidt, president/CEO of Northwoods Community CU. Her credit union is headquartered in a town--Park Falls, Wis.--that’s experienced annual average population declines of 2% since 2000, according to U.S. Census data.
And the county (Price County) that serves as the credit union’s home base has population that’s been declining at an annual average rate of 1%. But over this same period, Northwoods Community CU memberships actually increased: The credit union’s 0.5% average annual membership increase is laudable given the area’s demographic changes. And its focus on reaching out and deepening relationships with current members is producing fast asset growth. New products, membership growth drives directed at specific groups, and a continual focus on member services are the forces behind her credit union’s solid growth. In fact, the $50.1 million asset credit unions realized 17.9 % growth in assets this past year. This is the second installment of News Now’s
Membership Growth weekly interviews with fast credit union growers. The series is as part of an initiative of the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Membership Growth Task Force. It focuses on fast "organic" membership growth, not growth by merger or indirect loans. The task force, chaired by Dick Ensweiler, president of the Texas Credit Union League, was convened at the request of CUNA's Immediate Past Board Chair Allan Kemp McMorris. Its purpose is to investigate, report on, and encourage credit unions to embrace opportunities, techniques and processes that will increase credit unions' membership retention and growth. “The credit union’s mission is to provide outstanding service and security to our members. A focus on member services has always been a key for us,” Schmidt said. Because of that focus, the credit union introduced two new products this past year. The “Premier Account” is a new account that allows members to receive higher interest rates on deposits in their accounts and an increase in basis points on certificates of deposit. “The Premier Account provides excellent rates, cash availability and alternative deposit relations--which mean members can branch into other accounts and can receive the increased basis points that they get with certificates of deposit,” Schmidt said. Another product introduced in 2007 was a “very aggressive certificate program” that allows Northwoods to pay above-market rates, Schmidt said. The certificate pays out at 7% over the short term, but the credit union places a cap on the dollar amount that can be put into the certificate program, she added. One of the prime groups the credit union targets is youth. “We are very active with youth in our area because children are our future, and we want to get them as members and keep them for life,” Schmidt explained. Northwoods is proactive with children. It features kids clubs in which grandparents can open accounts for their grandchildren. The credit union also is active in financial literacy for kids, and has an annual drawing for two computers. Each time youth make a deposit to their account, they fill out a ticket that increases their chances of winning one of the drawings. Those in the “Teen Cent$ Club” are eligible for a drawing for a laptop computer. Kids, six months through 12 years old, who are in the Kangaroo Kids Club, are eligible for a desktop computer drawing. The credit union also is holding a membership drive for adults in which existing members are eligible for two drawings for a flat screen TV when they refer a new member who opens an account at Northwoods. Northwoods continually nurtures relationships with real estate brokers in the area to make them aware that the credit union is available for home loans. The credit union always tries to solicit small businesses for their financial needs. Northwoods has a director of business development, who heads up this area to establish fruitful relationships. Northwoods purchased a facility in nearby Ashland, Wis., opened a branch and put in an ATM and a drive-up facility. “We were leasing a building in that area, and based on a member survey, we realized our members wanted more service, so we purchased a building. The Ashland area is a good membership area for us,’ Schmidt said. Northwoods serves a seven-county area in northwestern Wisconsin, and has been a community credit union since the early 1970s. A combination of factors was responsible for the credit union’s solid growth in 2007. “We generated good income for the year by reducing expenses, and also increased loan investment interest income that allowed us to experience good return on assets,” Schmidt explained. “Our youth program in financial literacy continues to move in a good direction, with our kids club growing over 40% in new members last year. “Also, visits to our website were up 40% from the past year. It provides ways to grow demand for our products and services,” she added. In the future, the credit union intends to get more involved with indirect lending. Northwoods just started to venture into that area this year. "We are partnering with a vendor to help us be more aggressive in expanding membership lending for autos, Harley Davidson motorcycles and recreational vehicles,” she concluded. Anyone who wants to contact the CUNA Membership Growth Task Force can e-mail the account established for this purpose at firstname.lastname@example.org