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Central Sunbelt credit union traces roots to 1953

Laurel — In 1953, The Masonite Federal Credit Union was chartered in Laurel to provide services for employees of the giant board-processing plant and, 20 years later, the decision was made to expand membership to other employee groups.

The result was the Central Sunbelt Federal Credit Union of today, which has become a multimillion-dollar financial institution.

“When I started with Central Sunbelt 27 years ago, we had 3,000 members and $4.4 million in assets,” according to Riley B. Wynn, the CEO. “Now, there are 20,000 members and our assets are $88 million.”

President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act into law in 1934. The act authorized the formation of federally chartered credit unions in all states. The law was intended to make credit available and promote thrift through a national system of nonprofit, cooperative credit unions.
Credit unions grew steadily throughout the 1940s and 1950s and by 1960 credit union membership reached more than six million people at more than 10,000 federal credit unions.

Today, credit unions serve some 82 million members in more than 9,500 federally insured credit unions. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) charters and supervises the credit unions. The National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF) insures all deposits in credit unions up to $100,000, backed by the full faith and credit of the United States.

Over the years, the number of financial products offered by credit unions has increased steadily until today “Basically credit unions do everything that banks do — checking, savings, certificates, loans, except business loans,” Wynn said.

“On savings and certificates, we pay a little better rate than banks. We’re a nonprofit, financial cooperative. We pay more and charge less.”

Wynn added that Central Sunbelt pays no income taxes but pointed out that its members do pay income taxes on the interest they earn at the credit union.

“We pay all the other taxes — employee taxes, real estate taxes.”

One big difference between banks and credit unions, Wynn said, is that anyone on the street can go into a bank and open an account. But to open an account at a credit union, a person has to be an employee of one of the groups or a member of an employees’ family.

The groups served by Central Sunbelt are among the largest entities in the Pine Belt, including: Masonite, Howard Industries, Wayne Farms and the South Central Regional Medical Center, in Laurel; Peco Foods and Holmac in Bay Springs; and Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.

In May 1991, Central Sunbelt began an expansion with the opening of an office on South Westover Drive in Hattiesburg. A second Laurel office on Sawmill Road opened in April 1995, and an additional Hattiesburg branch opened on Lincoln Road in July 2000.

This steady growth is reflected by the construction of new headquarters on Congress Street in Laurel (on the same location as the headquarters). The new 20,000-square-foot building will open in 2006 on recently acquired adjacent property.

Wynn believes that the future for credit unions is bright. “We’ll become better and more diversified. With growth comes new opportunities.”

He emphasized that “the personal touch is really important. We can provide that personal service, can serve our members in ways that large banking institutions can’t.”

Like banks, Central Sunbelt has a board of directors that establishes policies and oversees the status of the credit union. But these board members are elected annually by the membership.

“And our board members are all volunteers,” Wynn said. “They get no compensation.”

A supervisory committee is appointed by the board of directors. Committee members are responsible for performance and for reviewing internal audits and verification of accounts. Committee members are also volunteers and receive no compensation for their work.

“We’re also audited by an Atlanta-and Miami-based CPA firm. And by a federal agency.”

In addition to checking, savings, certificates and loans, credit unions offer investments, IRAs, mutual funds and brokerage services. They also provide ATMs.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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