A Piece of the Pie
Premier Source Credit Union Continues to Reinvent Itself with New Services
It’s not the largest credit union in the region, but Premier Source has been parlaying its ‘hometown service’ model into successful returns since the 1940s.
Today, that model remains a large part of the institution’s business practices, and it’s leading to new opportunities.
Bonnie Raymond, CEO and manager of Premier Source Credit Union, said massive growth or major changes to how the institution does business are not currently on the drawing board. However, recruitment of new members is, as well as the introduction of innovative, convenience-based products and services geared toward businesses and individuals, particularly in the credit union’s new home base of East Longmeadow.
“The biggest goal for us is to continue to attract a steady stream of members and to develop great products,” said Raymond. “We don’t need to be the biggest, but we would like to take our piece of the pie.”
Premier Source began as Kelko, a select employee group (SEG) credit union, in 1941, serving the employees of the Kellogg Envelope Company (later Westvaco) in Springfield. Since then, the entity has grown through a series of expansions and mergers.
By 1972, Kelko served employees and retirees of all Westvaco facilities and their families. Following a move to a new facility on Cottage Street in Springfield in 1993, Kelko’s membership pool expanded again to include businesses within the Springfield Industrial Park, which numbered approximately 200.
A 2000 merger with Twin Meadows Federal Credit Union, formerly based in Longmeadow, further expanded that base of SEG members to about 3,500, and added two branches at Springfield College and Western New England College, which still operate today.
A year later, Kelko merged again with Spalding Employees Credit Union of Chicopee, resulting in another branch office (now located at Top Flite in Chicopee) and a total membership base of about 4,100.
Kelko retained its name until 2004, a year before the company applied for a charter change to become a community-based credit union, thus opening its doors to any and all residents and employees within its service area. The move was made to combat the declining membership that many SEG credit unions have faced since the 1990s due to plant closings, consolidation, and downsizing. The charter was approved in February 2006.
Today, Premier Source has about 4,700 members with six offices: its branch on Cottage Street and newly constructed main branch on North Main Street in East Longmeadow, and those located at Top Flite, WNEC, Springfield College, and Hasbro Games, a branch that was added just six months ago.
Dollars and Change
With its new identity as a community-based credit union, Premier Source has been continuing its tradition of growth and cohesion in the market it serves. Its new main office in East Longmeadow was just opened in May, and a formal open house to introduce the branch to the community is being planned.
“In the beginning, we delayed a big marketing push because we knew we were putting up the new building,” said Raymond. “But under the old charter, we used to get calls from the community all the time, and now that we can serve them, I think word-of-mouth is going to be big.”
To augment that organic spread of information, however, Raymond said Premier Source has also begun some print and radio advertising, promotions at benefits fairs within local companies, and reaching out to area businesses.
“It’s not a huge splash, but it’s a big splash for us,” said Raymond. “We’re pretty small, but we feel comfortable in our identity as a small, hometown institution, and at this point, we’re most focused on slow, steady growth and trying to remain a true alternative to banking.”
Premier Source is on terra firma in terms of its financials, said Raymond. It reports $13.4 million in capital-to-assets, and total assets are currently $32.4 million. With that base bolstering the institution’s development efforts, Raymond added that her goals for growth are about 3% to 5% over current membership. She hopes to achieve that through continued community involvement on both local and corporate levels, and by promoting a suite of unique services and products.
“We’re having some specials on things like home equity loans to educate people that we offer that product,” she said, “and we’re hoping to recruit both new corporate and individual members.”
Some of the credit union’s efforts, for example, have been centered in East Longmeadow’s growing industrial park, a source from which Raymond said she’d like to glean some new members.
“Many of them have existing relationships with other credit unions or banks, and we’re not looking to bowl anyone over,” she said, “but we would like to let those companies know that we’re another alternative.”
Raymond added that Premier Source’s small, local feel appeals to many employees in the area.
“I think they see that small size and convenience of location truly are benefits,” she said. “It takes the pressure off the employee, and we strive to offer products and services that do the same.”
Direct deposit and free checking are already offered at the credit union, as are a number of unique amenities designed to make banking, and other time-consuming errands, easier for members. While making a deposit or withdrawal, for instance, members may also purchase stamps, discount movie tickets, and gift certificates to restaurants or attractions such as Six Flags.
“We’ve done that for many years, and we only sell to members,” said Raymond, adding that a new set of products is now in development, to be gradually introduced over time.
“We’re looking into product development to spur income, which in turn will help us add to our marketing budget so we can do more things in that arena,” she said. “We’re looking at overdraft protection, tier checking, and online bill pay; we’re also looking to offer mortgages. We have a referral service with Members Mortgage now that is effective, but I think we’d like to bring it in-house.”
As new products are rolled out, Raymond said a strong focus on member service is being maintained. She said it’s long been a strength for the credit union, and even as new opportunities present themselves, relying on existing strengths will allow Premier Source to preserve its already strong foothold in the region.
“We are on the smaller end as far as credit unions go,” she said, “but our forte is small-town service. That’s the atmosphere we want to create, and the image we want to portray.
“We feel strongly that it’s our role to work with people through good and difficult times, and we’re not interested in outsourcing every decision.”
And as Premier Source continues to carve out its piece of the pie, Raymond said it will be an overriding goal to strengthen community ties and to rely on the traditions of service the credit union has honed since 1941.
“Our new ads say ‘a star is coming,’” she said. “True, we’ve been here for some time, but as a credit union that is newly open to the public, there are plenty of new introductions to be made.”
Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at [email protected]