July 23-Sept. 2, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 14
Back Issues
IN THIS ISSUE
Under One Roof:
New Children’s Medical Center planned
Musical: Ticket to Heritage season success
MacArthur Fellows ‘transcend boundaries’
Digest
Fall leaves turn to ‘black gold’ in summer
Credit Union turns 50
‘Out of Country’ exhibit features Queensland art
Review Your Financial Portfolio
Students Experience Spain

 

Credit Union Turns 50
Customer service a core value
Photo courtesy of the U.Va. Community Credit Union

By Matt Kelly

The University of Virginia Community Credit Union celebrates its golden anniversary this year, in large part by being the gold standard of customer service.

The credit union — now 46,000 members strong, with $300 million in assets and seven branch offices — started in 1954 at the prompting of Daniel D. Colcock, a financial officer at the hospital. He had investigated a state employee credit union in Richmond and saw the benefit to hospital employees at U.Va.

“The rest of us listened to him,” said founding board member John F. Harlan Jr., an administrative assistant at the hospital at the time. “There was a benefit, without any question, to some of the lower paid employees, who had difficulty in a legitimate borrowing situation. There were plenty of people who would lend them money, but the interest rates [they were being charged] were just outrageous.”

Operating from a humble office with two chairs, a desk and one part-time employee, the credit union signed up 307 hospital employees during its first year. “Once you made the $5 payment and you got a share, you were a member and eligible to borrow money and save money,” Harlan said.

“In those early days some of the members worked it out so that their wives and children had passbooks.” Harlan remembers that his own passbook — the small ledger-style book given to him by the credit union to record savings deposits, withdrawals and earnings — was number 100.

The credit union had a three-member supervisory committee and a three-member loan committee. Audits were conducted annually. Under the credit union’s original by-laws, if a borrower died, his or her loan was forgiven, and depositors had life insurance equal to their holdings, up to $2,000.

“That was a good deal back then,” Harlan said. Loans were limited to a few hundred dollars. “It could have been for a car, or a house add-on, or to assist with college expenses,” Harlan said. “It was 1954, a time when a dollar would go farther than today.”

The credit union closed its first year with $10,269.49 in assets, which “was a lot of money,” Harlan said.

Since then, the credit union has broadened its scope to include, first, the rest of the University and, later, the local community. Its services also expanded to include personal loans, credit cards, debit cards and interest-bearing checking.

“This is the coolest place I’ve ever been,” said Alison L. DeTuncq, the credit union’s chief executive officer, who rose through the ranks starting as a manager at the hospital branch 14 years ago. DeTuncq, a graduate student seeking a career in nonprofit health care administration at that time, accepted the job to get some business experience, not realizing that her decision would turn into a career.

“We are really doing service here,” said DeTuncq, who especially enjoys working with the volunteers who work on the credit union board of directors and the supervisory board, which arranges the annual audit, and holding educational seminars.

Janine Williams, the credit union’s vice president of marketing, first had the credit union as a client when she worked at an advertising agency in Charlottesville. She became a credit union employee in May 1997 and discovered first hand that the credit union was “the real deal,” she said.
“ The mission was genuine … all based on membership, with the overall benefit for the members,” she said.

The credit union cannot issue stock like a bank, but it can absorb other credit unions, which is one way it has expanded, beginning in 1978 when it merged with the Blue Ridge Sanatorium Credit Union.

Membership was further enlarged in 1987 to include employees of Piedmont Virginia Community College, and then in 1988, it merged with the Martha Jefferson Hospital Credit Union, the County of Albemarle Credit Union and the Charlottesville City Employees Federal Credit Union. In 1997, the name was changed to the University of Virginia Community Credit Union, and the state corporation commission extended membership to people working in Albemarle or Charlottesville then later expanded into Fluvanna and Greene counties.

There are 156,000 people in the three counties the credit union serves, and of these, 46,000 are credit union members. Even with plenty of room to grow, DeTuncq says her institution’s philosophy should stay the same. Shares in the credit union, for instance, remain $5, and service to individual members a main priority.

Customer service is what sets the credit union apart from other lenders, DeTuncq said, relaying two customers’ stories. One woman wanted a credit card with a $100 limit, a sum too small to interest local banks.

The credit union gave her the card with the $100 limit, DeTuncq said.
Another customer, who joined the credit union while on the engineering faculty, continued to be a member after she had returned to her native China. Each year she sent the credit union handwritten mailing labels in Chinese characters so mail would reach her in remote areas where she was working on water projects. And each Christmas she sent the credit union a watercolor she had painted. The paintings are on display in the lobby.

“That’s the kind of relationship we have with our customers,” DeTuncq said. And it’s the kind of service the credit union plans to provide to members, new and old, for the next 50 years.

 


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