Credit unions are financial institutions owned by members.
In the United States, they are not-for-profits that operate to serve members rather than to maximize profits.
On the whole, credit unions typically offer higher savings rates, lower fees and lower rates on loans. You may be able to join a credit union based on where you live, work or worship or have a membership in an association.
Here to answer this week’s “Behind the List” questions and talk more about the services provided by a credit union is Bret H. Krevolin, vice president and chief financial officer of Utilities Employees Credit Union in Wyomissing.
Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Utilities Employees Credit Union been operating in the region and what are its primary services?
Bret H. Krevolin: UECU was established in 1934 as AGECO Credit Union of Pennsylvania to serve Associated Gas and Electric Co. employees. Locally, it was known as the employee credit union for General Public Utilities Corp. (now Met-Ed, a FirstEnergy company), which was formerly part of AGECO.
Today, UECU serves the employees and families of over 500 partner companies involved in the utility, energy and related industries nationwide. As in 1934, all of our current 45,000 members are served from one building; today in Wyomissing.
Providing exceptional member service through our virtual business model has always been one of UECU’s strengths. The efficiencies of a virtual business model continue to provide members with deposit rates that are many times the national average, lower than average loan rates and high-quality personal service.
With the advent of the internet (and more recently, mobile banking), UECU has advanced as a full-service financial institution offering a wide range of deposit products including checking accounts, loan and mortgage products, investments and insurance and more.
LVB: What have been some of the biggest challenges and opportunities that Utilities Employees Credit Union has encountered throughout its years in business?
Krevolin: As UECU remains committed to serving the utility and energy employees we know so well, the growing challenge is getting that message to qualified companies and their employees. I wish that every qualified company would understand the benefit of partnering with UECU.
At every stage of life, UECU strengthens and improves our members’ financial positions. We know that when a member has a strong and stable financial perspective, there are fewer distractions affecting them in the workplace and at home.
Utility and energy workers in the field are among first responders during storms and natural disasters, often facing challenging working conditions. Reducing distractions and financial challenges helps to keep them safe and focused on the work at hand, a win-win for both the company and their employees.
UECU services improve employee wellness, which directly affects their ability to contribute to their company’s success. As we consider opportunities, with our virtual business model we are well ahead of the curve when it comes to providing financial services without physical locations and on a national level.
LVB: What are some perks of belonging to a credit union instead of a bank? What’s the difference between the two?
Krevolin: Many people choose to bank at a credit union because of the unique benefits they receive. As not-for-profit financial cooperatives that are not required to satisfy the financial expectations of stockholders, credit unions focus on returning a greater share of profits back to their member-owners.
Credit unions do this by offering low-to-no fees, lower loan rates, higher rates on savings and retirement accounts and financial education resources that members need to reach their financial goals.
Some credit unions also offer unique member give-back programs such UECU’s VantagePoints rewards program. … In serving our members, we listen to their needs and evaluate their situation so that we can recommend the appropriate product or service to meet their specific need.
LVB: Does Utilities Employees Credit Union offer any special programs to its members?
Krevolin: UECU’s VantagePoints rewards is the most visible special program at UECU. However, giving our members uncomplicated and beneficial accounts remains our highest priority.
Keeping in mind our goal to provide low- or no-fee accounts, our checking accounts include many important benefits that others do not. For example, we rebate fees (up to $12 per month) charged by other ATM [automated teller machine] owners, but more importantly we charge absolutely no ATM usage fees to our members no matter how they use their Visa debit cards. …
Additionally, we provide virtual, personal and in-person financial education programs to our members, including on-site educational sessions in the workplace, webinars on various topics and, of course, one-on-one service with trusted staff our members often know by name.
We know we’ve made a difference in the lives of our members and their families, perhaps for generations to come, when a member confidently manages their personal finances to meet both today’s and tomorrow’s needs. It’s so much more than accounts and special programs.
LVB: How does Utilities Employees Credit Union directly stimulate the local economy?
Krevolin: The cooperative nature of the credit union industry manifests itself through varied investments in their local communities. While serving a nationwide membership, our employees are concentrated in this region and they live the credit union philosophy of “people helping people” every day by supporting causes that make a difference in the lives of others.
UECU employees donate their time to various local organizations, organize clothing, food and blood drives, make in-kind donations to organizations in need and give back to those who have served our country. UECU and their employees raise funds throughout the year for the great work accomplished by the United Way of Berks County and was recently recognized as one of their top 50 companies for these ongoing efforts.
UECU staff, along with many other credit unions in our area, also participate in a series of financial reality fairs to help the students of local high schools learn about basic budgeting skills and the financial challenges they will face after graduation.
LVB: What does the future look like for Utilities Employees Credit Union? Does it have plans for growth?
Krevolin: UECU has the good fortune of having highly skilled and dedicated employees as well as loyal members who value their relationships with UECU.
On Nov. 30, UECU completed its first merger, and the members and employees of ClearChoice Federal Credit Union joined the UECU family. This merger presents us with the opportunity to provide our product and service offerings to the employees and family members of the UGI Companies, AmeriGas and others.
In addition, we will continue to enhance and expand our products and services as well as our online and mobile banking platforms to provide the best experience for our members. Like the light bulb that is a key part of our brand, UECU’s future is extremely bright.