1st Runner Up Sums It All Up In One Sentence

WEST MIFFLIN, Penn. - The first runner-up in the Frankies goes to Century Heritage FCU, which, by coincidence, does a terrific job of communicating the century of heritage that credit unions have.

Few CEOs take as much time to explain to members just what they are "members" of as does Vin Cerasuolo, CEO of the $122-million CHFCU. In several forums, including the annual report, Cerasuolo and the credit union's chairman, Jack Proksa, stress the basics, noting in one instance, "You can summarize what we're about at Century Heritage with one sentence-We help our members reach their financial goals."

In a letter to members the text is plain spoken, referring to "hard-working guys," for instance, and noting, "The formal term used to describe our corporate structure is 'non-profit financial cooperative.' That's a fancy way to say that serving your financial needs is the only reason for our existence."

Rather than relegate its history to the time capsule, as many credit unions do as if they were embarrassed by their roots, Century Heritage celebrates its history, explaining to members, "When those Duquesne mill workers put together this credit union in 1936, their goal was to give themselves the benefit of an alternate to banks and loan sharks, by pooling their savings and lending to each other. Did you notice the key word in that last sentence? It's 'themselves,' the credit union members. Not outside stockholders. Not highly-paid directors. Not executives with golden parachutes. Not the IRS. It's YOU."

In a separate correspondence to members, Cerasuolo and Proksa write, "These days you can find just about any financial service you're looking for at your credit union, from home equity loans and credit cards to investments and insurance. And you can access your funds by phone and online as well as at a branch. However, there is one thing that hasn't changed over the years- our commitment to our members."

The focus on core differentiation isn't limited to the members already in the doors. It has produced and aired radio spots, including one titled "George Bailey" that ran around the holidays (see scripts). It is also in the process of building a "Member Marketplace on its website at www.chfcu.org where members can refer local businesses for inclusion in this online directory and share testimonials about their experiences.

According to Cerasuolo the "It's A Wonderful Life" references can also be found internally, when new employees are shown an excerpt from the movie in which the Jimmy Stewart character, George Bailey, responds to a run on the Building & Loan by explaining to his shareholders the difference between their institution and the bank controlled by Mr. Potter. It has even dug up a 1953 CUNA video, "King's X," as well.

Century Heritage's efforts to add value to members' lives is apparently being appreciated. During its first five years as a community charter the board opted to also reinvest some 15% net worth into the members and community, reducing capital to a little below 11%. While East Mifflin is in the western portion of Pennsylvania better known as the declining "rust belt," Cerasuolo noted the credit union has seen growth rates similar to the more robust eastern half of Pennsylvania (see chart).

All in all, very deserving of the First Runner Up in this year's Frankie Awards.