CHARLESTON, S.C.-The ancient Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end on Dec. 21. In response, Latitude 32 CU here says that if it does, all its loans will be forgiven.

"It's pretty tongue in cheek," confessed Brad Rustin, CEO at the 7,300-member, $50-million credit union. Rustin explained that up until July the CU was known as Charleston Area FCU, but changed its name in an effort to update its image. The new name reflects Charleston's position on the 32nd parallel north of the equator.

"We saw this (promotion) as an opportunity to get our new name out and get people talking about it, and develop the brand as being a little more upbeat and interesting than just another credit union," said Rustin. "The Mayan 'End of the World' auto special just seemed like the ideal thing. If the poles reverse themselves and we all flow off into the universe, you're not going to have to pay your loan back."

Latitude 32 is promoting auto loans, but Rustin said that any loan is up for grabs. "If the end of the world truly happens, then all bets are off."


Open To Believers & Non-Believers

Rustin said that he doesn't expect anyone to take the promotion seriously, but a fervent belief that the world will end on Dec. 21 will not affect Latitude 32's underwriting.

"Whether they think the end times is here or not doesn't particularly matter to us as long as we can make a good loan and a good investment for our members," he said.

There is no special pricing involved, and L32CU is offering its everyday rates. According to its website, new and used auto loans start at 3.29%.

Latitude 32 is spreading the word via Facebook, its website and in-branch signage. The campaign had been running for less than 24 hours when Rustin spoke to Credit Union Journal, but he said that two people had already spoken to him about it, though they did not take out a loan.

But then that's the point, he said-just to get people talking and to make them notice the credit union.

"What we're hoping to do is to get our name out there and entice people in the Latitude 32 area to say 'Who are these new people?' and begin to develop a brand of being edgy sometimes, but very, very dedicated to our members."


Not So Much A Win As...

Latitude 32 does not have any specific lending goals associated with the campaign. The credit union's most recent Call Report lists 3,851 loans totaling $31.8 million, largely concentrated in auto loans. Rustin said loan growth was about 3% in 2012 but he is aiming for closer to 10% in 2013 and hopes this promotion will help kick start that.

"It's not like winning the lottery, because you lose terribly if the Mayans are right, but we're hoping people will see it for what it is, and if you need a car loan or any kind of loan, you might go talk to those folks," he said. "I truly believe that we're going to be talking about the 'End of the World' auto special for a good long time-at least into the new year."




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