NEW YORK — Under a sunny, breezy sky in lower Manhattan, the newest credit union in the U.S. — The Finest FCU — celebrated its grand opening on the steps of City Hall, just blocks away from the where the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11 killed hundreds of New York City police officers, firefighters and others.
In a gesture toward history and tradition, the grand opening of the first new CU chartered this year, coincided with the 170th anniversary of the founding of the New York Police Department.
A group of local political dignitaries and credit union executives joined various police officials in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that did not shy away from referring to the inherent dangers of police work — with several participants making direct references to the murders of NYPD cops over the past few months.
In a touching tribute, the actual ribbon-cutting was performed by the new credit union's first official member, Detective Steven McDonald, a NYPD officer who was shot in the summer of 1986 and is now confined to a wheelchair.
The Finest Federal Credit Union bills itself as the first such institution dedicated to solely serve all law enforcement personnel in New York, including police officers, corrections officers and their families. Indeed, the NYPD (which has about 34,500 uniformed officers and a few thousand other personnel, including administrative support staff) was the largest police department on the nation without its own credit union — until now.
The new credit union will provide its members with financial services from the time they enroll in the Police Academy through retirement, said credit union board chairman James Shea, a retired NYPD chief himself, who also attended the ceremony.
"We have long believed that there is a need for a credit union that would address specific and unique financial needs of the city's law enforcement community," said Shea. "Services like special loans for new recruits that finance police equipment and uniforms, loans for small businesses that may be part of an officer's retirement planning, overall retirement planning."
The Finest Federal Credit Union received a low-income credit union designation from NCUA, allowing the institution to accept non-member deposits, obtain grants and loans from the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund, offer secondary capital accounts and qualify for certain exemptions from statutory limits on member business lending.
The credit union received its initial capital from AmTrust Financial Services, Inc., an $11.3 billion entity that provides property and casualty insurance to small businesses.
Addressing the crowd of about 100 people at the grand opening, the chairman of the NCUA Debbie Matz opened her speech by expressing her condolences to the NYPD over the death last week of Brian Moore, the police officer murdered in cold blood in Queens about a week ago; as well as other acts of violence against New York cops, including the double assassination of Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos in Brooklyn late last year.
"The recent attacks on police officers remind us how important it is to support our men and women in uniform," Matz said. "This is truly the perfect time to charter a credit union for police officers in New York City. This credit union will provide critical financial support to law enforcement officials and their families."
Citing her own Big Apple credentials (growing up in the Bronx and being the first New Yorker to serve as the NCUA board chair), Matz said: "Credit unions are about community. And I can't think of a tighter-knit or more deserving community than those who wear law enforcement uniforms. When it comes to the law enforcement community, this credit union will focus on very specific financial needs."
As an example of such needs, she cited, officers may need specialized home insurance products because they bring home weapons or equipment.
"Because their jobs are so dangerous, they may require line-of-duty insurance products," she added. "These products are critically important to the law enforcement community, but financing for them is often not easily accessible. The Finest Federal Credit Union will recognize those needs and serve those needs."
In an interview with Credit Union Journal, Matz said it was a pleasure and an honor to attend the opening of such an important new financial institution for a very deserving field of membership. It is something that she doesn't often get to do, since, on average, only about two or three new credit unions are chartered annually.
Other speakers at the morning ceremony uniformly praised the police department and called for increased financial literacy and financial counseling for police officers and their families.
"This credit union will go down as a historic occasion, a dynamic partnership, and a significant opportunity for NYPD officers" said New York City Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat who chairs of the Committee on Public Safety, to the gathered assembly.
Brooklyn Councilman David Greenfield and Queens Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (both Democrats) praised the police department and expressed the need for urgency in delivering financial services to officers given the dangers of the job, as illustrated by recent killings of cops. They also assured the police of the public's gratitude for their courage and service to the community.
The Finest FCU said that it will have a 9-member volunteer board of directors comprising active or retired law enforcement officers and will be based at 59 Maiden Lane in New York. Additional member services will be available through a network of branches with support from the Greater Metro Federal Credit Union in Queens, a $91-million institution based in Long Island City, N.Y.
Chairman Matz's Chief of Staff, Steve Bosack, said that police officers and other law enforcement personnel who are already members of an existing credit union, such as the $2.2-billion Municipal Credit Union, which serves NYC municipal workers, including police officers, can also join the Finest FCU.
But it has been a long journey to this day. Bruce O. Jolly, Jr., an attorney who has been involved with the creation of this credit union through various starts and stops, said that the idea for this new CU was first floated a decade ago.
"When the financial crisis hit in 2007 and 2008, it became impossible to raise seed money for such institutions," Jolly told Credit Union Journal at the opening ceremony.
Jolly explained that the brainchild for this credit union was former NYPD Captain Paul McCormack, an Irishman who served at Ground Zero during the 9/11 attacks and suffered subsequent health issues that led to his early retirement from the force.
"McCormack was the fellow who called me up about helping to form this credit union," Jolly said. "Throughout this long process, he never once gave up."
McCormack also attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.