By LISA MONTI
Branching out into new markets, including Louisiana, is part of the strategy that has helped make Keesler Federal Credit Union the largest in Mississippi. Founded in 1947, the Biloxi-based credit union has $2.2 billion in assets.
The new markets have increased the credit union’s membership and loans, said Sharon Keller, vice president of marketing. Wherever its branches are, she said, the credit union gets involved in the local community and charitable causes.
“We’re expanding north into Hattiesburg and Jackson and west into the St. Tammany Parish area,” Keller said.
“Last year we were nominated for the Small Business of the Year by the East St. Tammany chamber and this year we received the Newcomer Award from the Area Development Partnership in Hattiesburg. We get very involved in our communities thanks to our Business Development team.”
John Goff, president and CEO, said Keesler Federal has seen tremendous growth since the beginning of 2014.
“Loan demand has been very good, we’ve added branch locations in new markets and even introduced business products. We’re implementing new technology in payment systems and delivery channels that will further enhance service levels. Through it all, we continue to be strong and well capitalized. And our member satisfaction rating is at an all-time high as well. The future looks very promising at Keesler Federal,” he said.
Keesler Federal recently merged with Wesley Health Systems Federal Credit Union in Hattiesburg. In 2014, it merged with the Mississippi Department of Transportation Federal Credit Union in Jackson.
Wesley Health Systems Federal Credit Union was chartered in 1968 to serve employees of the former Methodist Hospital. With the merger, Keesler Federal’s membership eligibility grew to include all of Forrest County and some employee groups in Lamar and Marion counties.
In addition to moving in to the Wesley FCU branch, in April Keesler Federal opened a second branch in Hattiesburg on U.S. 98.
“The growth for us is not just mergers,” Keller said. “We’re opening branches to provide credit union benefits to new communities.”
MDOT FCU approached Keesler Federal about a merger because officials wanted to be able to offer more products and services to their members, according to Keesler Federal. The current Jackson branch is located in the MDOT building downtown. The credit union is studying the Jackson market to see where additional branches would be most convenient to the new members.
Keller said the rapid branch growth continued with the opening of two more branches in June and July. Diamondhead in south Mississippi has a new, larger branch and a second branch is now available in the Triangle area of Keesler Air Force Base. “We provide products and services customized for the students on base, including financial education and loan products especially designed for the young Airmen.”
Keesler Federal’s Triangle branch joined 22 others in Mississippi, Slidell, La., and three Royal Air Force bases in the United Kingdom.
There are 190,000 credit union members worldwide and 440 employees in the United States and the UK.
Adding to Keesler Federal’s growth is the new business services program, offering commercial real estate loans, business loans, deposit services and credit cards to help members grow their businesses, Keller said.
“But it’s not just new markets and services we provide in our communities,” Keller said of the credit union’s volunteer and fundraising efforts. “In the last couple of years we have worked to be more visible in the neighborhoods we serve and have supported community events as a major sponsor,” she said.
Keesler Federal is one of the primary sponsors for the American Heart Association’s Gulf Coast Heart Walk and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
Keesler Federal also partners with the non-profit Combat Wounded Veterans of South Mississippi’s fundraising efforts, and its employees collect items that are distributed to the homeless of South Mississippi every year.
“We also support Keesler Air Force Base as sponsors for numerous military and military family events on base like the Child Pride Day and the open house and air show,” Keller said.