Dow Great Western Credit Union, with branches in both Antioch and Pittsburg, Calif., expanded its field of membership to include the surrounding counties of Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano—an area of more than 3.25 million people. The move was announced on Oct. 1 of this year and is the largest in the organization’s history since its founding in 1938.
The credit union was originally chartered to serve the west coast employees of the Dow Chemical Company. “Our primary SEG was going through some drastic changes,” Dow Great Western President and CEO Paul Kramer said. A series of mergers and spinoffs ultimately meant that many Dow Chemical employees were no longer eligible, because they technically either didn’t work for the company or did so but outside the scope of the credit union’s FOM.
“We wanted to see if we could gain access to these new areas,” Kramer commented, “and thought that our remote access enhancements helped to position us for this as well.” Specifically, he added, Dow Great Western is “hoping to increase membership, show benefits to additional SEGs and help provide additional options for the communities in our charter.”
The expansion also aligned with the credit union’s broader goals for growth, as Dow Great Western just purchased a new retail building it will soon take over. “We are hoping that the cost savings that we will see (from the move) will allow us to give back to our members in earnings, savings, or additional benefits,” Kramer explained.
Beyond physical expansion, the institution will also look into offering new services to meet the needs of all its members. “These include needs in our current area as well as our new charter communities. Different communities may have very different needs and we are looking at new solutions for those needs,” said Kramer.
“We are also looking at online account-opening partnerships,” Kramer stressed, highlighting the goal and importance of providing improved remote services. He noted that Dow is currently “researching marketing efforts and many other potential options for expanding into these new areas,” in addition to “leveraging partnerships that we already have in order to plant the seeds of Dow CU in our new communities.”
Kramer continued on to state how supportive the credit union industry has been of the move, along with how little pushback they have faced from the banks in this instance. In fact, he pointed out, “We have seen banks leave our community to relocate to wealthier neighborhoods.” This has led to an increase in the number of people who are underbanked.
Dow Great Western hopes to fill a void in these communities. Kramer noted, “We are committed to offering financial services to underserved populations, engaging youth in financial education, and returning profits to our members.”
Ultimately, Kramer said, Dow Great Western’s “main focus right now is on finding the best way to get a foothold in our new communities and grow sustainably for the benefit of our members.” And despite acknowledging “there are a lot of challenges associated with expansion,” he added, “from a financial standpoint we feel that we have the structure and capacity to grow quickly but with control.”
Kramer then underlined the vital significance of this growth to both his organization and for credit unions in general. “We have seen the number of credit unions decreasing. Growth is important to us, because we see it as a way to protect the industry…A success for one is a success for us all.”