Although there are numerous benefits at both the state and national level from the Department of Veterans Affairs, transitional and unexpected expenses can stand in the way of a seamless transition back to civilian life.
Financial institutions and nonprofit organizations in Washington state have come together to overcome these hurdles, offering products and services to the 607,000 veterans who call the state home.
CU QUICK FACTS
america's Credit Union
data as of 9.30.14
HQ: Fort Lewis, WA
12-MO SHARE GROWTH: 5.69%
12-MO LOAN GROWTH: 23.12%
America’s Credit Union ($434.2M, Fort Lewis, WA) partners with the Veterans Family Fund to offer a certificate of deposit that provides benefits to its members and local veterans.
Veterans Family Fund CD
Headquartered near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, America’s Credit Union has developed close ties to its local military population over its 60-year existence. According to Heidi West, vice president of marketing, 27% of its membership is active duty military.
In early 2007, the Veterans Family Fund approached ACU about offering a CD. The Fund supports projects and programs in Washington’s Pierce and Thurston counties. According to the 2010 Census, more than 87,000 veterans live in Pierce County, making it the county with the second largest concentration of veterans in Washington, which itself has the eighth largest veteran population of any state in the country.
VFF allows institutions to customize the CD; however, ACU’s has remained unchanged since its inception. The certificate requires a minimum deposit of $100 and offers an APR yield of 75 basis points for a six-month term. When it matures, half of the earned interest goes to the member and the other half goes to the Veterans Family Fund as a tax-exempt donation, thanks to the Funds' status as a 501(c)(3) charitable or non-profit organization.
The VFF uses the interest to help honorably discharged veterans with emergency assistance for things such as rent or car repairs, says Perry White, president of the VFF. The fund has provided assistance to the Washington Soldiers Home and Colony and Building 9 for Veterans Transitional Housing Program. It has even given $1,000 to a man who needed to purchase a new car when his vehicle could no longer operate in reverse.
The credit union has contributed $2,657 from the CD to the Veterans Family Fund and currently has 11 open CDs with a combined balance of more than $141,000.
This is a great way to help veterans. We hope more people feel altruistic and want to help.”
Of the 24 banks and credit unions that support the VFF through this CD, ACU is the third largest contributor. It has provided 19.5% of the total revenue collected since 2007, according to Mike Brown, treasurer of the Fund.
A Certificate The Speaks To Any Field Of Membership
Two main factors motivate ACU members to purchase the VFF certificates. First, purchasing the CD might directly impact a member of the credit union and will likely affect a member of the community. Second, directly supporting the military is a patriotic sentiment attractive to many ACU members.
“This is a great way to help veterans,” White says. “We hope more people feel altruistic and want to help.”
But how can a product like this work for a credit union that doesn’t have a military field of membership?
West suggests focusing on the marketing. Although the certificate’s 0.75% APR is competitive compared to other products at ACU, West admits better deals do exist. Members choose the CD not only because it benefits the veteran community but also because they know about it.
ACU lists it on its rate sheet, but it also educates employees about the product so they can help promote and cross-sell it. If the credit union wanted to more heavily market the product, West says the credit union could easily send a direct mailer to consumers who typically use deposit products.
More important than the marketing, though, is finding a local charity or cause that resonates with the credit union’s core membership. Find a local program that benefits a core membership group and link the product to that. And with a 501(c)(3) tax exemption, members can write-off the donation.
For ACU, the donations it has made have helped service members returning from deployment reintegrate into civilian life, West says. Spreading the word about the Veterans Family Fund is changing lives.
“There’s been a lot of broken families over the years,” he says. “You’ve got multiple deployments and young people getting married as one or both are getting into the war. They’ve been gone so long; it’s hard for these families to get back together.