PONTIAC, Mich.-Hiring a dedicated staffer to handle indirect lending has been a major change with major benefits at Affinity Group CU here, the result of a lesson learned during the recession.

"We hired a gentleman who came from the dealer financing part of the auto industry, and he's now our VP of lending," said Carma Peters, COO at the 20,000-member, $143-million credit union. "He created our own internal indirect program, and we have very close relationships with a few dealers. His philosophy and being able to look at ways to create loans has been instrumental in growing our loan portfolio."

Part of that philosophy, said Peters, was emphasizing to employees the importance of looking for every opportunity to lend and always asking for the members' business. Since the end of 2009, overall lending at AGCU has grown from $51 million to $67 million, including an increase in indirect lending from 31 loans to 488 loans totaling more than $8 million as of March 2012.

No More Cable TV

Additionally, AGCU looked for every opportunity to save money, including getting rid of cable TV in employee breakrooms, scaling back the printed newsletter from four times per year to twice per year and renegotiating vendor contracts. When it comes to marketing, Peters explained that the credit union reduced its commitment to newspaper advertising and found ways to be more targeted in its direct mail campaigns, mining data to reach specific members rather than an across-the-board mailing. Overall, those sorts of changes have saved AGCU more than $300,000 annually.

"We've really stuck with it," said Peters. "We really look at every single thing and say 'What is the benefit?' and if we're going to participate in this, what do we get out of it?"

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