A Lesson In History From Philadelphia

Cooperative Trek, Day 3: Visits to American Heritage Federal Credit Union in Philadelphia and McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union in New Jersey offer inspiring strategies.


We headed out of New York City early and were greeted in Philadelphia by the sun rising over another exciting skyline.

We drove through the heart of the city, passing Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and Franklin Court. The 55-acre Independence National Historical Park where all the sites are located has been called “America’s most historic square mile.” And the history didn’t stop with Center City.

A few miles outside of downtown, American Heritage Federal Credit Union’s ($1.2B, Philadelphia, PA) operations center stands tall, like a grand southern estate. The impressive brick-covered building sits beside an old carriage house that’s now one of the credit union’s branches.

The credit union brands itself as an institution built on history. President and CEO, Bruce Foulke, is distantly related to President Abraham Lincoln and has a small piece of the former president’s hair encased and hung in his office. He led us through the office and conference rooms, pointing out priceless historical relics like one of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence and several Harper’s Weekly broadsheets that recount Lincoln’s assassination.

But just because American Heritage is surrounded by history, doesn’t mean it hasn’t evolved.

American Heritage is trying to be on the forefront of new technology for the financial services industry, employing PAT or Personal Automated Teller machines, which put the consumer face-to-face, live with a credit union teller. The PAT machines do everything an ATM does and more, including dispensing coins, certifying checks, and allowing tellers to help the member and cross-sell. And Foulke says the consumer feels more secure.

The credit union has also created an iPhone and Android compatible mobile application to try and capture younger members and push more transactions online to cut costs.

While American Heritage has perfected its cooperative story with historic connections, a central New Jersey credit union about an hour closer away is still tailoring its own story.

McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union ($285.9M, East Windsor, NJ) is using its members to help tell its story. Its “We Hear You” campaign launched at the beginning of August to give members a platform to speak from about how credit unions’ service differs from big banks service.

The campaign’s marketing shows three young adults roughed up — one with a black eye and another with tire marks across her face — reflecting the fact that McGraw-Hill understands “the pain consumers are feeling from their large banks.”

The credit union is asking people to send in 90-second videos explaining why banks are leaving them bruised and broken and how credit unions have helped. Participants will be entered to win up to $1,500 in prize packages for submissions.

Not only does the credit union want to promote itself, but Shawn Gilfedder, president and CEO, says he wants to ignite a credit union revolution by increasing awareness throughout the industry.

“We’re competing with the advertising dollars of Chase and Bank of America,” says Gilfedder.

That isn’t easy. He wants to see the cooperative system work together to spread the word. He’s more than willing to share McGraw-Hill’s campaign and is hoping other credit unions will adopt it. While he knows other credit unions are competing for members, he says he cares more about seeing the industry grow and soothing members who have been abused by the big banks.

Author Bailey Reutzel and multimedia producer Melissa Forsyth hit the road in August for a weeklong Cooperative Trek. They traveled from Washington, DC, to Portland, ME, stopping along the way at 11 credit unions and learning first-hand about successful strategies to share with our readers. Follow the 2012 Cooperative Trek on CreditUnions.com as we release stories from the road throughout the fall of 2012.