Alden Credit Union Expands with New Financial-services Center
Seizing an Opportunity
Adam Corcoran calls it the “Alden mystique.”
And by about the third casual reference to it, he was hard-pressed by BusinessWest to elaborate and elucidate as to just what that is.
He struggled a little with that assignment, because, in his view, and those of others around him nodding their head in agreement as he spoke, this isn’t exactly something you can see or easily qualify.
“The Alden mystique? It’s hard to explain, really … it’s more something you feel; it’s our personality, for lack of a better word,” said Corcoran, president of Chicopee-based Alden Credit Union. “It’s our brand — it’s who we are, it’s everything we say, and how we say it; it’s everything. You have to witness the service and get the full effect to really understand.”
Whatever the Alden mystique is, it will be — again, according to the people acquainted with the phenomenon — very much in evidence at the new, 4,000-square-foot Alden Financial Center on State Street in Belchertown, set to open its doors at the end of this month.
“It speaks to who we are — it adds to our mystique,” said Corcoran, adding that the name ‘financial center’ is significant, because this isn’t a branch, in the strictest definition of that term, and so, therefore, that is not what it is. Rather, it’s a full-service facility to be staffed by a full-time investment/financial advisor, a full-time property and casualty insurance advisor, and those providing traditional banking and loan services.
“It’s truly a one-stop financial center,” said Corcoran, and one that speaks to the credit union’s explosive growth in recent years, from $78 million in assets in 2010, when Corcoran arrived, to $161 million at present — and its ambitious plans to continue on that trajectory.
Indeed, the Belchertown facility, formerly occupied by Easthampton Savings Bank before it relocated to another location in Belchertown, is part of a strategic initiative to better serve the credit union’s many customers in the Ludlow-Belchertown area, and attract more of them, said Corcoran. But it was also pursued (ultra-aggressively, as we’ll see shortly) out of sheer necessity; the company has been growing at such a rate that it simply needed more space, and in a hurry.
The Alden mystique? It’s hard to explain, really … it’s more something you feel; it’s our personality, for lack of a better word. It’s our brand — it’s who we are, it’s everything we say, and how we say it; it’s everything.”
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had over the years has been trying to find space for the staff we’ve assembled to support the growth we’ve had,” he explained. “Our main office in Chicopee is only so big … we’ve had board meetings in the basement for years. We then moved into the administration building across the parking lot from us, but it seems like every year we run out of space.”
That shouldn’t be the case any longer, he went on, noting that the new center in Belchertown should provide adequate space for years to come.
Meanwhile, it will become the cornerstone of expansion efforts in an area identified as one with high growth potential.
“One of the things we decided was that expanding for the sake of expansion and just putting branches up where we had an opportunity to do so was not really the way to go,” said Alden board chairman David Hodge, referring to a branch opened in Amherst in 2012 and closed three years later due to underperformance. “We all thought this [State Street] location was a great opportunity to not only solve our space problem, but better serve existing new customers and generate additional growth.”
List of Credit Unions in Western Mass.
For this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the new Alden Financial Center, the circumstances that made in a necessary reality, and the role it will play as the credit union seeks to continue and even accelerate an ambitious pattern of expansion — in every sense of that phrase.
Site for Sore Eyes
Corcoran told BusinessWest that Alden undertook what would be considered a very elaborate search for a location for its new financial center, one that would take it to several communities and a host of potential sites, many of which did not fit that aforementioned Alden personality for one reason or another, or didn’t work from a financial perspective.
To say that it became enamored with the State Street parcel in Belchertown, owned by Pride Stores, would be a huge understatement, as Corcoran’s recollection of efforts to acquire it reveals.
“This wasn’t even available when we first looked at it,” he recalled. “When we first inquired, they said, ‘oh, you want to rent it?’ We said, ‘no, we want to buy it,’ and they said, ‘but it’s not for sale.’”
Continuing with the story, he said the credit union asked the individual in question if inquiries could be made into if, and under what circumstances, the property might come up for sale.
“Some time went by, and we got a call back, and the person said, ‘I hear you’re interested in leasing the bank space in Belchertown,’” he went on. “I said, ‘no, we’re interested in buying it,’ and he said, ‘but it’s not for sale.’ And I said, ‘we’ve had this conversation.’”
In essence, Alden wasn’t interested in taking ‘no’ for an answer, and it didn’t, eventually convincing Pride to let it acquire the property and the 1.3 acres it sits upon, a small portion of a much larger development (still owned by Pride) that includes a Tractor Supply Store, Planet Fitness, and other retail outlets, and will soon include a Pride store itself.
Why was Alden so persistent? A combination of factors, said Corcoran, including the geographic location — the proximity to communities with many customers and Belchertown itself, still one of the fastest-growing communities in the region — but also potential traffic flow at that expanding retail site, complete with the new Pride store, and the attractive physical space in the building itself. Also, there are no other credit unions in the vicinity.
“This was one of those things where timing and the pieces to the puzzle all came together,” he said. “It’s worked out fantastic so far.”
To get a better appreciation of all that, we need to back up a bit, to when Corcoran came to the company. It had $78 million in assets and roughly 12,000 members. Today, as noted, the numbers are $161 million and 22,075, respectively, and growing, with all of that growth coming organically and well ahead of the pace industry-wide, he noted.
When asked how this was accomplished, he made perhaps the first reference to the Alden mystique, noting that, during his first few years at the helm, the institution built up what he called its “infrastructure.”
By that, he meant a foundation on which to grow, meaning everything from products, a staff, new branches, and a platform for providing quality service, to aggressive marketing and smart use of improved information technology.
“We’ve set the bar higher for ourselves when it comes to the value we provide the membership and potential new members,” he explained. “We haven’t been afraid to take risks; sometimes they’ve worked out, and sometimes they haven’t, but we haven’t been afraid.”
In that ‘haven’t worked out’ category is that aforementioned branch in Amherst, undertaken as part of a partnership with UMass Amherst Athletics. The branch, located on Main Street, was not ideal, with no drive-up window and limited space, said Corcoran, and didn’t develop as expected.
Thus, the credit union, still desperately in need of more space, commenced a search for a more strategic location in Hampshire County, and for something that would be much more than a branch.
The search ended in Belchertown.
Center of Attention
Thus begins an intriguing new chapter in the story of this nearly 90-year-old institution.
Its marketing slogan is ‘Banking. No Boundaries,’ and that saying now has new meaning with the Alden Financial Center. The literal boundaries have been extended, and the figurative ones — well, there weren’t any to begin with, as evidenced by the Alden mystique.
That phenomenon is, as Corcoran said, hard to see and define. It’s the institution’s personality. And it will be on full display at this new facility.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]