The Search For The Perfect PFI (part 2)

Callahan & Associates' Alexandra Gekas has decided on the important criteria for her credit union. Now she compares several cooperatives to help her determine which one she’ll join.


In Part 1 of my search for the perfect primary financial institution, I landed on the five criteria that were most important for me in choosing my credit union: location, free checking, online banking, good credit card rates, and auto loans.  Now that I have decided what I want, I need to find it.

With an Internet search, I found several credit unions near my house and work in the Washington D.C. area that I was eligible for and that offered most of the benefits that I wanted. These were the five:

1)      HEW Federal Credit Union (VA, $149.6M)

2)      Lafayette Federal Credit Union (MD, $350.6M)

3)      MCT Federal Credit Union (MD, $402.2M)

4)      Signal Financial Federal Credit Union (MD, $299.5M)

5)      Department Of Commerce Federal Credit Union (DC, $247.6M)

To narrow it down further, I visited these credit unions’ websites and Facebook pages. I was drawn to the websites that were professional and easy to use and to the Facebook pages where credit unions were connecting with tips and fun, interactive contests. I know that I will be using the online banking channel and I want to feel like my account is safe, and that the technology is up-to-date.

For example, HEW Federal’s website had a spotlight on current promotions so I could easily see what they’re offering members. Signal Financial’s site has three icons for auto lending, mortgage lending, and a student center that caught my attention and got me clicking through. Signal Financial also has a “Forms & Applications” button on the homepage with the options to join the credit union, apply for a loan, and do a balance transfer. Being able to do all that online is a major plus because it’s much more convenient.

I also visited a credit card comparison website,, where I learned that both MCT and Lafayette were on the “Dean’s List,” which means that they have no balance transfer fees, no penalty pricing, no annual fees, APRs less than 18%, and late fees less than $25. The Department of Commerce also had a solid credit card program, offering four of those five benefits.

My mother, a member of MCT Federal Credit Union, has highly recommended MCT because she’s been so pleased with their services. A referral like that is hard to ignore. One thing that’s keeping me from joining is the fact that I physically have to go there to sign on. MCT has only three branches in Maryland and I work during normal business hours in Washington D.C. Plus, I don’t own a car.

Now I’m wondering whether I should go with my mother’s referral or choose one I can easily join online. Among my remaining options, all of them have strong online channels, but should I narrow down based on who has the stronger credit card program and shared branching?

I thought this decision was going to be easy. Clearly, I was wrong.

Read The Series

The Search For The Perfect PFI (part 1)
The Search For The Perfect PFI (part 2)
The Search For The Perfect PFI (part 3)


June 22, 2011

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  • I'm suprised you didn't look at NASA Federal Credit. They have online banking, remote deposit, branches in Maryland, Virginia, and DC....and you're eligible to join!
  • Thanks to your article Alex, I finally got the motivation to join a credit union, which I have been wanting to do for quite some time. Bank of America is no longer my PFI. I just joined NASA Federal Credit Union online in just a few clicks.
  • Great feedback, Alexandra. Thank you.
    Alice Stevens
  • Alice, you bring up a great point. I suppose if remote deposit capture, a great call center, and mortgage origination online was available, the distance of the branch would not be as important.

    I'm used to calling into a call center and feeling frustrated when I can't get my questions answered. If a credit union provided wonderful member service, than I would rethink that. My only question is, how would I know that the credit union I was searching for had an excellent call service?

    I think you could communicate the remote deposit value on First Financial's website. A stagnant image of a mobile phone and a check would capture my attention when I visited your site for the first time. Also, have that as a benefit of membership and under your personal accounts tab would also be helpful. Those are the two places I was searching on most sites.

    In terms of communicating the call center benefit, it is a little more difficult on the website. Member testimonials of your service is always a bonus. I constantly look to see what other people have to say about a product/service. I see you are doing that on the top of your site! It didn't jump out at me originally, so you might want to bring it down under the navigation bar in some way.

    I like your live chat feature on your site, that shows me that you care about answering my questions. That is a total bonus!
  • Would remote deposit capture from your home office, a great call center and mortgage origination online with great phone support change your feelings about needing a branch within X miles?

    If so, could i get that message across to your comfort level on a website?
    Alice Stevens
  • Hi Alice,

    Thanks for your comment. That is a great question. Joining remotely makes it easier for me to get started now, which is why I like that perk.

    The branch location honestly has to do with comfort. I have grown up being close to my bank "eek I said it" and therefore when searching I wanted to at least know a branch could be accessible if need be. Clearly, the online services and the shared branching are helpful for the everyday transactions I will be doing. Down the road I am sure I would have to venture to the branch, perhaps to work out my first mortgage loan or receive financial advice, so it makes sense to pay attention to location.

  • I'd be interested to understand why, if electronic services are one of the most important to Alexandra, why is the location of a branch the first criteria - particularly if being able to join remotely is of interest?
    Alice Stevens
  • Hi Melanie!

    Thanks for the comment. I'm not sure why NASA wasn't on my list. I think it had to do with my search for branches within a certain amount of miles. I did some research and found there are lots of CU Service Centers around that I could use. I will add it to the list, thanks so much for the advice.
  • Thanks for the articles Alexandra! It is sometimes hard to "sell" changes to the website, types of products, etc. to management (especially aging CEO's)because they get lost in dollar signs and percentages but hearing true life experiences of why these things are necessary (because they are important to our current and prospective members! imagine that) might help. I plan to share. Thanks again.
  • Alex, thanks for your research and feedback on what would attract you to join a credit union. I will pass this article along to members of our management team.