The Hub: Banking on a milestone

NEFCU celebrates 50 years

June 16, 2011

By Luke Baynes
Observer correspondent
New England Federal Credit Union held an event at its main branch in Williston on May 25 to formally celebrate its 50th year of operation. Pictured from left to right: NEFCU board chairman Charles DesLauriers, Gov. Peter Shumlin, NEFCU marketing manager Cindy Morgan, and John Dwyer, NEFCU President and CEO. (Pphoto courtesy of Jim Tabor)

A lot can change in 50 years.

In 1961, a year when gas prices averaged 31 cents per gallon and the average cost of a new home was $17,724, the newly founded IBM Employees Credit Union in Essex had 473 members and $2,298 in assets.

On May 25, when the renamed and community chartered New England Federal Credit Union celebrated its 50th anniversary with an open house at its main branch in Williston, it had more than 79,000 members and over $823 million in assets.

What began with seven IBM employees is now the largest credit union in Vermont. The credit union still has a branch at IBM but also has five others — Williston, Essex, South Burlington, Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington, and St. Albans.

President and CEO John Dwyer and Chief Financial Officer Susan Leonard said NEFCU’s success is due to its decision two decades ago to focus on the mortgage business at a time when many credit unions lacked the scale or expertise, plus the simple fact that they’re in business to serve their members.

“I think the goal for any credit union is to make sure that you return to members,” said Dwyer, who began with NEFCU 24 years ago and became CEO in January 2010. “We’re nonprofit. We do business for members, so we try to make sure we do value every day.”

With the banking industry still recovering from the subprime mortgage crisis that helped cause the worst recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s, one could hardly call these the salad days for mortgage lending. But Dwyer said NEFCU is in a stronger financial position now than before the subprime meltdown and that 2009 and 2010 were, respectively, NEFCU’s second- and third-best years ever for mortgage originations.

“Vermont has been fortunate that neither we nor any of the other local Vermont credit unions and banks originated the kind of loans that we all read about,” said Dwyer. “There has been some subprime lending in Vermont – primarily by people who aren’t here anymore.”

Leonard, who was promoted to CFO a decade into her 20-year career, agreed that NEFCU has made it to 50 because of its responsible lending practices, but said that responsibility starts with its members.

“Our members are responsible, and I think you can make the case that Vermonters in general are fiscally responsible,” Leonard said. “We really take our responsibility in that relationship very seriously and make sure that members are getting into a mortgage that fits them.”

Another thing NEFCU takes seriously is charitable work and its status as a good corporate citizen.

“Not only have we grown from an asset standpoint, but we’ve grown in our awareness that we need to participate more (in the community),” Dwyer said.

Some of the ways NEFCU gives back to the community are by hosting seminars that teach young adults about the importance of managing credit cards responsibly, having annual “Blankets of Hope” drives to provide warmth to the needy, and its participation in the “Big Change Roundup,” which raised $18,683 to benefit Vermont Children’s Hospital last year.

Looking back at the past two decades, Leonard spoke with pride about her company’s ascension to a prominent place in the local community, and its contribution to Vermont’s growth as a whole.

“Over the past 20 years we’ve had such incredible growth and change, especially in Chittenden County,” Leonard said. “We’re all proud that we’ve been able to be a part of that growth and that success.”

Dwyer echoed her comments, praising both his employees and his company’s member base.

“When you reach this kind of milestone, it’s nice to have capacity, it’s nice to have the 170 talented people we have working here, it’s great to have 79,000 members and it’s about focusing to make sure that what we return to the member is something they value,” said Dwyer. “We work hard every day to make sure we’ll be here another 50 years.”