In March of 2019, Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, located in Bradenton, Fla., was approved for a field of membership expansion to include the state’s Service Employees International Union. The process took just around six months to complete, but it opened up membership to 54,000 new, potential members.
This is only the most recent FOM expansion for Manatee. “The credit union had experienced rapid growth after moving from multiple common bond to a community charter as a low income designated [Community Development Financial Institution] almost 10 years ago,” Sherod Halliburton, president/CEO of Manatee, said. “Positioning ourselves as an institution that served almost exclusively the underserved for several years dramatically increased our diminishing membership.”
This approach, however, would prove unsustainable after Manatee’s numerous attempts at securing a CDFI grant from the U.S. Treasury were unsuccessful. “A large percentage of our new members and loans were coming from high-risk individuals, most of whom could not access traditional accounts and loans,” Halliburton noted. “We understood the risks that we were taking but always felt that surely our work in this space would be rewarded by a CDFI grant to ultimately mitigate our risk.”
The setback unfortunately meant Manatee had to abandon this strategy for growth and chart a new course. “We were forced to take our destiny into our own hands and reposition ourselves to better diversify our membership by going back to our roots,” Halliburton explained. The credit union was then approached by the SEIU.
“The organization wanted to offer our unique brand of financial services to its members as an additional bonus to union membership,” he explained. “We agreed to provide their growing membership with access to quality, capacity-building products and services. Getting them into our FOM was a primary driver for our change.”
Ultimately, Manatee settled into a multiple common bond charter while retaining its low-income designated footprint. This approach allows the credit union to eventually add the entire corporate entity of the SEIU, while not losing sight of its original mission. “Due to our low-income designation, we are still able to serve individuals in Manatee and Sarasota Counties that live in low-income census tracts while availing us the ability to serve more stable members through the union and other select employer groups,” Haliburton emphasized.
The expansion itself will be incremental, as Manatee plans to enroll one SEIU chapter at a time, and the credit union is investing heavily to help facilitate this growth. “We have spent the last two years building a digital platform focusing on digital enrollment, loan applications, mobile banking, remote deposit capture and all other digital services,” Haliburton said. “We will access our service levels and only open up new slots when it has been proven we have the capacity to serve in a high-quality manner.”
The individual products offered by the credit union will stay the same, however, Halliburton stressed, “The manner in which we promote and deliver those products will change dramatically.” In addition to the increased digital presence, he continued, “We have bought into multiple ATM networks affording members more than 100,000 fee-free ATMs across the U.S., as well as shared branching to fill in the gap in service due to our one location.”
Like many other credit unions, the path to growth for Manatee Community has not followed a straight line. Adapting to changes in industry regulations and the shifting demographics of communities is never straightforward and easy. But, in the end, Manatee’s new charter highlights what is probably the most valuable aspect of any FOM expansion: allowing a credit union to grow while remaining true to its core mission.