CHICAGO — The Chicago Patrolmen's Federal Credit Union has added about 1,600 new members so far this year — but many of them are not from the Windy City, or even anywhere in Illinois.

Some 360 of them joined the $383-million credit union through an affiliation with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), a national organization that includes some 318,000 sworn officers of the law across the U.S., which Chicago Patrolmen's was able to add to its field of membership after gaining NCUA approval last August.

But now the CU is rolling out an aggressive marketing campaign to reach FOP members all across the country by creating a new division of Chicago Patrolmen's called the National Police Credit Union, which is aimed at making the CU more attractive to law enforcement officers outside of the Windy City.

Of Chicago Patrolmen's new members added so far this year, many hail from all parts of the country, especially in areas where there are no credit unions that specifically serve law enforcement officers, that includes a number of rural regions but also some big cities, such as Dallas and Phoenix.

Chicago Patrolmen's added the FOP to its field of membership after the world's largest society of sworn law enforcement officers reached out to the CU for help providing its members with access to auto loans and other financial services.

Jim Bedinger, the chief operating officer of Chicago Patrolmen's and chief executive officer of National Police Credit Union, explained to Credit Union Journalthat National Police Credit Union is not itself a credit union — rather it is simply a marketing vehicle through which Chicago Patrolmen's can bring in new members who work in other police departments.

"Any FOP member who joins us becomes a fully-fledged member of the Chicago Patrolmen's FCU, with access to all the membership privileges and financial services accorded to existing members," Bedinger said. "We had to create the more universal name 'National Police Credit Union' as a means of assuring prospective members that they did not have to be employed by the Chicago Police Department to be a member of our credit union; that they could be linked to any department across the nation, as long as they were also affiliated with FOP."

He added that many credit unions have used a sub-brand or marketing brand when they merge another credit union into them or when they add certain SEGs, "to help the new potential members feel welcome."

Baxter Credit Union, a $2.2-billion institution based in Vernon Hills, Ill., is a perfect example, having created a number of different divisions as it has merged with smaller institutions, such as when it added the employees of Staples Inc. to its field of membership.

"They used an online marketing division called 'Staples Credit Union' to attract new members to join Baxter for some time," he explained. "Eventually they stopped using the name once they raised awareness about Baxter."

Bedinger indicated that attracting new members through the FOP has occurred as expected. "More importantly, we are delighted by the fact that senior FOP officials have indicated to us that 'we have been very well received' everywhere we have presented, and that has begun to take hold with their membership," he said.

Police officers in most large metropolitan areas, including Phoenix and Dallas are eligible to join multiple credit unions, Bedinger pointed out. "However, they are not police-specific credit unions. They tend to be community chartered," he added.

And given that FOP counts more than 318,000 members (more than ten times the total current membership of Chicago Patrolmen's), the upside potential is huge.

But Bedinger points out that his organization is not stepping on anyone's toes in seeking to recruit new members. "In a sense, you can say that policemen in rural areas of the country are 'under-served' and that they need financial services that we provide," he said. "Even police officers in certain large cities do not have credit unions specifically tailored to their needs either. We hope to fill that vacuum as well."

According to NCUA data, there are at least 60 federally-chartered credit unions specifically serving a police clientele — from the tiny $376,000 Macon Police Credit Union of Macon, Ga. to the giant $4.6-billion Police & Fire FCU of Philadelphia, Pa.

In New York, where $2.2 billion Municipal CU, chartered to serve all municipal employees — which includes the Big Apple's police department — a brand new credit union, the Finest FCU, was recently chartered specifically to cater to law enforcement officers. Though police officers were already eligible to join MCU, founders of the Finest FCU said there was real value in chartering an institution dedicated specifically to law enforcement officers, who often have special needs that other municipal employees do not.

Members who join Chicago Patrolmen's through its National Police CU division can avail themselves of such products as the National Police Credit Union Auto Loan Program, which covers new and currently owned vehicles, reduced documentation and interest rates as low as 1.49% APR.

New members will also have access to online banking, bill pay and the shared branch network of 5,000 locations and 30,000 surcharge-free ATM locations across the country.

Chicago Patrolmen's was chartered in 1938 to serve the city's police department. In 2011, NCUA allowed it to add other police departments — 55 to date — as SEGs. The agency allowed the CU to add the Fraternal Order of Police in 2014. CPFCU currently boasts 28,317 members.

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