Community Commitment Remains Top Priority for 55-year-old Credit Union
The oldest financial institution to be headquartered in Central Oregon, Mid Oregon Credit Union, recently celebrated a 55-year milestone with a continued vow to expand community opportunities for a steadily growing membership.
Vice President of Marketing and Sales Kyle Frick said latest developments included expansion into the La Pine area to meet growing demand, initially via a satellite office presence.
The institution – which maintains its original charter as a full-service, member-owned financial cooperative – already has over 22,000 members and five branches in Crook, Jefferson and Deschutes counties, with long term plans targeting the launch of three
to four more branches over the next two decades.
And the core philosophy remains squarely focused on helping members achieve financial goals and a wider mission of customer service. Frick observed, “The Credit Union industry’s original motto, ‘Not for profit, not for charity, but for service’, accurately describes our purpose.
“While profit margins are important for economic viability, our Credit Union places its major focus on service. Our cooperative structure, member ownership and exceptional, caring and honest service distinguish us from other financial institutions.”
Mid Oregon Credit Union actually traces its roots back to Prineville in late 1957, when Alma Wauge, a school district employee, left her job to start Tri County Teachers Federal Credit Union, which became the first institution of its type to be chartered in
Wauge served as the manager, and her husband served as loan officer and treasurer, as the organization was established with the aim of serving school employees of Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties and their families. In 1961, the membership was expanded to include school employees of Harney and Wheeler counties, and the name changed to Mid Oregon Credit Union.
By mid-1975, the business moved out of the Wauge’s home into more formal offices, but, soon after, the couple retired and a new manager was hired. The former location was traded, and a new more modern building was constructed and opened in May 1981. That location, on Olney Avenue in Bend, is still an operating branch.
A merger with Central Oregon Federal Credit Union added some 1300 accounts in 1982, and further expansion in the mid-1990’s saw Mid Oregon’s Community Charter widened to open membership to anyone who lives, worships, works in or goes to school in – and business and legal entities located in – Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties.
A new headquarters was built on NE Cushing Drive in Bend in 2001. The year 2006 saw a return to original roots with the opening of a branch in Prineville. A new office was launched in the Madras market in 2009, adding to a fold that also includes a Redmond base of operations.
One of the ways credit unions differ from conventional banks is that each member is a shareholder — one member one vote — and membership has the power to influence policy through their Board of Directors.
The original founding members of Mid Oregon each paid $5 and received one share, becoming an owner, in the credit union, and that still holds true. “It was $5 to join in 1957 and it’s still $5 today. The money is deposited right into your account,” added Frick.
“You can trace credit union origins back to Europe, when royal subjects tied to serfdom didn’t have access to capital and decided to pool resources to loan to their community as part of a cooperative effort, and in the U.S. the Credit Union Act was signed during the Great Depression at a time when immigrants from other countries were also looking for wider access to capital.”
An all-embracing membership philosophy, together with a diversified risk management policy has helped Mid Oregon grow, even through the weathering of economic fluctuations of recent history.
Strong trends over the last decades have continued, with 10 percent deposit growth and around six percent loan growth reported for 2012 as the Central Oregon market shows positive signs of stabilization and a return to appreciating values.
Since its inception, Mid Oregon has made over 87,000 loans to the tune of over $645 million, and its balance sheet shows currently shows some $174 million in assets – up from around $159 million at the same time last year, and $145 million in 2011.
“Credit unions in the last several years have become much more visible,” said Frick. “The ‘brand’ of credit unions seems to resonate with communities, and people are looking for security and stability, especially after all the turmoil with financial institutions over the last several years.
“Members are also looking for a place for money to stay local and appreciate the opportunity to interact with professional representatives locally.”
A recent survey bears out that contention, with Mid Oregon outscoring many peers and achieving “world class” ratings in areas such as friendliness, courtesy, accuracy, fees and overall personal service, indicating that over 80 percent of its current members would be likely to recommend the institution to a friend or family member.
Local community involvement is also a high priority, and Mid Oregon has deepened ties through a broad swathe of programs, including sponsoring Free Family Saturdays at the High Desert Museum, Stick Horse Races and Picnic in the Park events in Crook County and the Supplies 4 Schools tri-county initiative to name but a few.
As part of a cooperative commitment to social responsibility, Frick also spearheaded a “Credit Unions Working Together” initiative which saw other prominent local credit unions collaborate to take the annual Great Drake Park Duck Race charity fundraiser to the next level.
On the customer front, Frick says shorter term priorities include managing growth and striving to meet consistently rising expectations.
He said, “We have widened our reach by partnering with groups like Arbor Mortgage and Cascade Insurance, and added an in-house retirement and investment advisor, and always look to pursue strategic alliances that add value to our members.
“We believe that it matters to help our community be a better place to live, and we look to find new ways to give access to credit and capital and to offer new products to benefit members, which is part of why we have been growing significantly over the past few years.
“We have a volunteer Board of Directors based on member value, not stakeholder value, which is instrumental in developing that core strategy.”
Mid Oregon, which has some 64 employees in the tri-county area, is supportive of legislative efforts to increase credit union small business lending capacity from the current limit of 12.25 percent of total asset value to 27.5 percent, to meet increased demand.
It also pitched in to provide an Air Travel Bank card facility as part of the recent successful multi-agency push to regain daily roundtrip air service from Central Oregon to Los Angeles, and was one of the first contributors to the OSU-Cascades four-year campus initiative.
Frick added, “These are the types of things that our members want us to do, and we wholly support such efforts as major investments in Central Oregon’s future.
“Among other benefits, a four-year higher education institution would attract research companies and other business clusters, as well as offering wider access to affordable tuition for our region to complement the great opportunities provided by COCC.
“I believe we are currently the largest geographic area in the U.S. without a four-year university, and research indicates such a move could bring a net economic impact of around $130 million annually.
“It would also add stability to the local economy as education is to some extent counter cyclical and can help even out fluctuations, as people often pursue further training in economic downturns.
“We have a mutual vested interest in the local economy and a dynamic commitment to the growth of our community.”
www.midoregon.com, 541- 382-1795.