Where the Faithful are Family

Mormons shun commercialism at their places of worship but flock to a credit union where their values are known and welcome.

 
 

Cumorah Credit Union is state chartered in Nevada for members of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). Begun in 1965, it has a new headquarters in Henderson, just outside Las Vegas; it has $185 million in assets, eight branches and 15,000 members. Cumorah CU takes its name from the name of the hill in central New York where in the 1820s Joseph Smith received the revelation that inspired the founding of the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Cumorah CU is privately insured; it participates in the FSCC shared branch network and the COOP ATM network. Tony Mook worked at two credit unions before being hired as the CEO for Cumorah in 1990. He serves on the Nevada Credit Union League Board, has been its chairman, and serves on the American Share Insurance Board.

Do you feel there is a difference working in a faith-based credit union?

TM: I’ve worked 29 years in credit unions, including American First in Ogden, Utah, and Golden West, one basically for government employees and the other initially for railroad employees. I’ve worked at Cumorah for 17 years. It’s clear to me that the core beliefs of the membership make a significant difference in the operation of each credit union. Here’s an example. We recently finished a new headquarters building and could lease space downstairs. A wellknown coffee retailer offered to pay a premium for the space, but we turned it down owing to conflicts with our religious beliefs.

In addition, here at the credit union we reflect our LDS values, thus emphasizing politeness, appropriate speech, conservative dress (much in Las Vegas tending to the contrary) and so forth. A great deal of visual marketing in Nevada tends towards bikinis, and we forgo that entirely.

Are you allowed to market through and with the church?

TM: No. The church is strict about keeping commercialism away from its places of worship. Speakers at the pulpit cannot recommend that worshippers join our credit union; we have no direct sponsorship by congregations; and we cannot hand out fliers at churches or set them on the windshields of cars in a church parking lot. There are no ATMs or other credit union paraphernalia on church properties.

How do you market?
TM: We sponsor community events – a national football bowl game, for example – and advertise on Sunday morning radio music programs. We also advertise in appropriate print media, mainly Mormon magazines and publications. We are co-located with some church-owned bookstores and other businesses. But our best marketing is word-of-mouth about our superior service.

Describe your competition and market penetration.

TM: There is another LDS credit union in Las Vegas that keeps us on our toes. There are other LDS credit unions in neighboring states; Deseret First is in Utah
and Beehive Credit Union is in Idaho. Then there are the banks, which really dominate the Las Vegas market.

We have only reached 13% of our potential membership, so we have really good potential for growth. We are researching ways to expand our reach and are investing heavily in our brand. We feel that focusing on exceptional service and demonstrating that we are committed to the communities will win us good rates of growth.

How does your credit union project Mormon values?

TM: Our name, for one. All Mormons recognize the word Cumorah, so immediately Mormons understand this is a Mormon-oriented credit union. In addition, our corporate logo includes these words: “Family. Value.” It’s a play on words, of course. We want to show that we care about family, about family values, and about the value of our services and products. We are thinking of adding a third word: Service. This would reflect not only the credit union’s commitment to serving members but also to the ideal of service that Mormons have as portion of their faith. Mormons shun commercialism at their places of worship but flock to a credit union where their values are known and welcomed.

How do your products reflect the values of your members?

TM: Our members are taught the value of thrift and staying out of debt since infancy. The only real acceptable forms of debt are for housing and education. So our credit union is mainly a real estate lender, with a few auto and signature loans thrown in. Regulators have expressed concern about the size of our real estate portfolio but then they see our very low loan losses and our growth and performance.

We offer debit and credit cards, and these are used around the world because our young people travel far on missions. We also offer two programs for young people, one for children under age 13 that promotes thrift and another for persons up to about age 25 that helps them with their first cars, credit cards and checking accounts.

Are there other ways you work with the church?

TM: The church sends us persons who need financial counseling. We provide it free whether they are our credit union members or not. We are now, of course, helping a lot of people refinance bad mortgages. Delinquency here is very low because our faith is strong on personal responsibility. Our rule here at the credit union is that if a person talks with us earnestly and is honest we’ll do everything in our power to help, but if a person is dishonest with us, then that person cannot count on our help.

Tell us about your e-banking.

TM: We were one of the first credit unions in the state to be online. We have a fairly high penetration rate. Lots of our young members go to BYU in Utah and so do a lot of e-banking with us and ATM transactions while they are there and studying.

Do you think your members have a sense of community?

TM: Very much so. Or rather a sense of family. We feel we are all a part of one family. Members come into our offices and are treated with respect and made to feel accepted. They discuss their children abroad on mission work and the tellers and others here know exactly what they are talking about. With many financial institutions, you feel you are a customer. Here you feel you are a member of the family; that’s what a faith-based institution can do.

Mormons have a strong tradition of people helping people, so the credit union is a natural fit. They feel welcome here and they understand the credit union philosophy.

People have been responding well to your approach?

TM: Since I’ve been here – 17 years – we’ve grown from $30 million to $185 million in assets. Year over year that translates to 12% per year. I’d say they have
responded well.

 

 

 

April 7, 2008


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