By BECKY GILLETTE
In 1947, ten civil service employees working at what was then Keesler Field realized a need for wage board employees to have an opportunity to accumulate savings and have access to affordable credit. They were granted a charter for Keesler Federal Credit Union (KFCU) that year, and in a year had grown to about 270 members and $7,000 in assets.
Today KFCU has grown far beyond what the initial charter members could have envisioned. It serves far more than people who work at Keesler Air Force Base. It has more than 200,000 members worldwide with assets of more than $2.5 billion.
“The credit union began with a vision of helping people improve the quality of their life,” said KFCU CEO and President Andy Swoger. “That vision still exists today.”
Friday, Sept. 29, KFCU will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of its first membership meeting. Visitors to branches will be offered cake, and some members will be surprised with gift cards that day.
KFCU refers to customers as member-owners because it is a cooperative owned by members. Swoger said as a not-for-profit cooperative, profits are returned to members in the form of lower rates on loans, fewer fees for financial services and better rates on savings.
There are also no high stipends paid to board members.
“The board members serve as volunteers because they are committed to the people-helping-people philosophy,” Swoger said. “When comparing Keesler Federal other financial institutions, it’s amazing how much of a savings our members earn by banking with Keesler Federal.”
In addition to better rates and terms, one popular program is their Member Giveback program.
“Giving back to our members and the communities we serve is very important to us,” Swoger said. “Through the current member giveback program, 35 members are randomly selected every month to win prizes ranging from a $100 deposit to a loan payment to a doubled direct deposit. But the true member giveback is the millions of dollars our members save every year by using Keesler Federal for financial services.”
Keesler Federal serves members located all around the world. Swoger said this is likely due to members joining while they lived near a branch and then keeping the banking services with KFCU after moving. Or, they may have joined through a family member.
“People choose to keep the membership because of the great service and the rates,” Swoger said. “Because Keesler Federal is also concerned about offering high-tech solutions such as mobile banking, remote deposit, shared branching and online applications, members can do business with us from anywhere in the world.”
KFCU’s branches in England came about because the Department of Defense saw a need to protect American servicemen from high-rate loan sharks located around overseas military bases. In 1968, Keesler Federal was invited to bid on overseas service in the United Kingdom and began with branches on each of the Royal Air Force Bases in the United Kingdom. Today, KFCU still serves members of the Royal Air Force Bases stationed in the UK.
KFCU has been on the move recently. It has expanded into Covington and Mandeville, La. In 2018, they anticipate opening another office in St. Tammany Parish, La. as well, as expanding locations in Jackson.
There is a big myth that you have to be in the Air Force or military to be a member, but that is not the case. KFCU serves people from many walks of life.
“There are a variety of ways to join Keesler Federal,” Swoger said. “Although we have a strong bond with our service men and women, membership is available to more than just military. Most join because of their employer, the location of their residence or by affiliation to certain organizations. In fact, if you are reading this, you probably live in an area that qualifies you to join.”
KFCU Vice President of Marketing Sharon Keller said they try to communicate the message that “there are many ways to join” in much of their advertising.
“This and the message that you don’t have to be military to use Keesler Federal services is something we stress whenever we have an audience of potential members – especially in our newer markets, like the Jackson Metro area,” Keller said. “Since we share the name with Keesler Air Force Base, consumers make the logical assumption that we are exclusively for the military. Now, however, people who live, work, worship or attend schools in Harrison, Hancock, Pearl River, and Forrest Counties and in several areas in Hinds and Jackson Counties can take advantage of membership at KFCU. We also have three branches in Southeast Louisiana now and these same eligibility requirements now extend to St. Tammany and Orleans Parish.”
Keller said their top two challenges are overcoming the misconception that they only serve the military and communicating the Keesler Federal benefits in new markets where they are relatively unknown.
“Communicating our unique brand position using mass media is most effective in overcoming these challenges,” Keller said. “It’s worked well, so far, on the Mississippi Coast as indicated by our last three market surveys. In these, Keesler Federal was identified as one of the top two financial institutions on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Our brand is strong in the areas we’ve served for the past 70 years.”
Keller said since Keesler Federal is there first and foremost for their members, they often highlight members in testimonial advertising.
“Our mass media (TV, radio, outdoor) focuses on the unique Keesler Federal brand – who we are to our members and to our community,” she said. “We are also increasing our email and other digital (online) advertising, spending more time identifying the best members and potential members to target our marketing messages. Database marketing has taken the marketing function to a whole new level and we’re looking forward to growing our expertise and technology to accommodate this.”
KFCU also finds social media have been a perfect fit. Keller said as they have become more and more involved in the communities they serve, Facebook and Instagram have been the best channels to communicate these important events and activities.
“Stimulating member engagement (including ongoing conversations and feedback) is one of our primary objectives,” she said. “Social media allows us to stay in touch with our members. Keesler Federal uses Facebook for things like a member photo contest that uses chosen photos in our annual wall calendar, ticket giveaways for University of Southern Mississippi games, and communicating the numerous ways we provide assistance and recognition in our markets. We also use LinkedIn to effectively recruit new hires.”
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