GR Credit Union Extending Its Reach

April 17, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — The CU Financial Group (CUFG) becomes the Lake Michigan Credit Union on Friday. But the switch means more than a name change. It means that CUFG, once an umbrella group for the Grand Rapids Teachers, Health Care, Alliance and St. Mary's Hospital credit unions, has a community charter and can now serve everyone in Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties under the Lake Michigan CU banner.

The Office of Finance and Insurance Services, a state agency that regulates credit unions, approved a request for a community charter in December from Grand Rapids Teachers CU. And the new status takes effect on March 1.

"This means that anyone who lives, works or worships in Kent, Allegan, Muskegon or Ottawa counties is now eligible to join the credit union," said Jerri Schmidt, director of marketing and business development for CUFG and Lake Michigan CU.

Schmidt told the Business Journal that the credit union applied for the new charter after lots of people inquired about becoming members, but had to be turned down because they weren't employed in a line of work that allowed them to join CUFG.

"Because of the mergers and different things that were going on in the health-care and educational fields, and especially in the food-service industries, it made more sense to be reflective of the community that we are serving, than to be tied to an industry that was going through mergers and changes and things like that," she said.

It took the state about three months to approve the application.

"It's not an easy process," said Schmidt. "You have to show the reasons why you need to do this, and that you can actually serve the membership that you are going to be granted."

CUFG did a zip-code survey of its membership and found that it had a large number who lived near Holland, Muskegon and Allegan, but worked in Kent County.

"With that information, that is where we will open our branches," said Schmidt.

Now the physical changes begin. The more immediate ones are:

**The new signs at the current branches will be unveiled on Friday.

**The new Web address, www.lmcu.org, also will launch on Friday.

**The branch at 1425 Michigan St. NE will close soon, and be moved to Leonard and Plymouth NE. The credit union owns the land and has already broken ground for the branch.

**The credit union also owns property at Eighth and Waverly in Holland and will break ground for a new branch there this year.

"We hope to get the Holland branch started this year and finished by next year. Then the next area we'll be looking at will probably be Muskegon, and then shortly thereafter will be Allegan," said Schmidt.

"Before we put a branch location in Muskegon and Allegan, we will have drive-thru ATM services there. So we will actually have service points for those people probably within the next year, and a full-service branch will be following shortly thereafter."

Schmidt said members would be kept updated of the changes and new offerings through the regular mailings. By the way, when Lake Michigan Credit Union officially opens its doors on Friday, it will do so with 85,000 members and $550 million in assets.

"We're strategically positioning the credit union so that we will be here to serve the members. We will provide the services, of course, that they're looking for, because, without a doubt, we're a consumer-driven entity," she said. "If we don't follow what the consumers - our members, - are telling us, we won't be around."

The movement to become a community-charted credit union began last August. Then the Health Care, Alliance and St. Mary's credit unions agreed to consolidate into the Grand Rapids Teachers CU. Four boards of directors and four sets of books became a single board and one set of books, and members overwhelmingly favored the move.

"The membership themselves came back and voted unanimously for it," said Schmidt. "In fact, they said we always thought you were one credit union."

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