Leveraging Relationships to Grow Membership

HOUSTON-The future is bright for Light Commerce Credit Union, according to its CEO, Harlene Johnson, noting the CU is looking to add members this year by leveraging its relationship with its sponsor.

Credit Union Journal: In which areas does your CU perform particularly well?
Johnson: We have great relationships with our members because we have focused on financial education. We have a strong auto lending program, and we also do savings-secured lending.

CUJ: How do you do so well?
Johnson: The education side is really important to us. We offer a "411 of Credit" seminar that teaches the basics of credit and how to read a credit report. We also offer seminars on budgeting. This year we are going to expand the education component. We will have six-part seminars on, for example, how to buy an automobile. Some cars depreciate faster than others, so we teach them what to look for.

CUJ: Are you proof small CUs don't have to merge?
Johnson: Absolutely. It is a matter of continuing to give support. Our goal for 2010 is to increase the brand of the credit union. Our sponsor is our church, so we want to increase the awareness of the credit union as a first option. Our deals are better than what they can get elsewhere. Not all of our loans are to people with bad credit, many are "A" and "B" paper, but they just don't think about us.

We shop our rates for our loans and our depository accounts. For small credit unions, as long as we offer quality, we can survive.

We really have not focused on advertising as much as we should have. Our field of membership is a little different in that our church has four locations: two in Houston, one in Austin and one in Beaumont. We began participating in shared branching last year. That will help us. The church has 23,000 members, plus their relatives by blood or marriage. We want to link with the sponsor's website, we want to be part of the church's advertising.