JIM WAUN

Until now, I’ve never enjoyed being involved with retail banking institutions. Last year, I wanted to take my soon to be ex-wife’s name off our VISA account with a national bank.

Over a couple of weeks, I spent more than three hours on the phone with at least 10 people. The last one said that since she’d set up the joint account. I’d have to open a new one for myself.

So I got a VISA card from the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union (MSUFCU). A few months later I got to talking with a server in a restaurant in Boston’s Logan Airport and forgot to take my card with me when I left. Desperate to not repeat the card problem, I called the restaurant and begged them to overnight the card to me. I even used what I call the “age card.” I’m 82, just went through divorce and hell with the last card, I don’t think I can handle this. Sometimes that gets me sympathy. Not this time.

After sulking a day and mourning for two more I went to a nearby MSUFCU branch with hat in hand, hoping they’d expedite a new card for me within a week. I told the receptionist I probably needed to see the assistant manager to begin the process of replacing a lost card.

“No problem, Mr Waun,” she said. “Any of the tellers at any window can help you.” Ten minutes later I left with a new VISA account number, new card, and a warm and tingly feeling. Wow, superior service from a bank.

My banking problems, of course, rank somewhere between insignificant and “stop your whining” in present day, technology enthralled America.

About the same time, I learned that MSUFCU provided a gym acquaintance with much greater assistance. In his early 70s, his wife died after a few months illness. Within a year, a son died.  

His personal and financial life was in shambles. With the credit union’s help, the cash flow and bill-paying parts of his life were put in order.  Importantly, he knows where to go if he wants more help.  

I used their help another time when I wasn’t able to access my online account after they updated their security and password system. I prefer one-to-one assistance in an office over phone or online chats. A person spent an hour with me setting up a new password and wrestling with the system to make sure everything was working properly.

In my half-dozen trips to the credit union I’d noticed that the employee mix is about 50:50 male to female. Nobody there knows exactly what the ratio is. I arranged to meet with Deidre Davis, vice president of marketing and communications, to see what I could learn about the MSUFCU. After an hour’s visit, she arranged a meeting for me with her, Elizabeth Cohen, manager of specialty services and support, and Rhoda Martin, specialty accounts coordinator. We visited for two hours.

I knew that banking institutions historically focus on growing their own and customers’ wealth. That’s not the nonprofit MSUFCU’s main focus. While providing the usual financial products and services at competitive costs, it concentrates on growing itself through investments.

Believing that a strong community benefits everyone, it invests in projects that make the community a better place to live and also encourages staff to volunteer. It supports the arts in the regional schools and community. And it provides financial education classes and materials on topics ranging from budgeting to surviving foreclosure and bankruptcy.

Recognizing the importance of diversity, embracing change and a congenial work environment, it invests in the wellbeing and personal and professional growth of its staff.

Cohen, and Martin are the credit union’s in-house support unit for front line employees and their customers.

They love working with staff and members to make a difference in peoples’ lives on perplexing issues ranging from balancing checkbooks to improving credit scores, rewriting mortgages, consolidating loans and credit card debt, working with guardians and conservatorship.

Talking with my barber last week, I learned that his middle-aged daughter had finally worked her way up to assistant manager of a local bank’s branch. A couple of years ago, hoping to improve her lot, she changed banks. Then the new bank was bought by the old and she is back working for the same guys again.  

Genders working together as equals, thriving, strengthening communities, helping people at critical times, protecting seniors and the vulnerable: What a concept.

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