As a thriving part of the Abilene, Texas economic community, the employees of Hendrick Memorial Hospital sought the benefits of establishing their own credit union to assist them in their financial endeavors. Seven insightful employees of the hospital filed a formal request for organization with the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions on October 15, 1959. Charter #13290, establishing the Hendrick Memorial Hospital Employees Federal Credit Union, was approved on November 3rd, 1959. The field of membership was open to employees of Hendrick Memorial Hospital, employees of the credit union, their immediate family relations, and related organizations of such persons. Members were allowed to purchase a membership share in the credit union for $5.00.
The credit union’s first Board of Directors consisted of seven hospital employees. The office of the newly elected treasurer became the first location of the credit union and the founding members were offered the basic services of share accounts and signature loans. Volunteer members were responsible for providing credit union services. Credit union membership had grown to 75 members with assets totaling $6,518 by the end of the first year of operation. As the population of Abilene doubled in the next decade, hospital expansion resulted in staffing increases and the addition of the Hendrick Medical Center Foundation in 1974. The credit union took advantage of these growth opportunities and moved to a permanent location in the hospital as well as establishing regular operation hours during the workweek. The Board of Directors hired a manager in November of 1979, who became the first paid employee of the credit union. By the end of 1979, credit union membership had grown to 601 members with assets approaching $500,000.
Credit Union Growth 1959 – 1979
The decade of the 80’s brought many changes for Hendrick Memorial Hospital Employees FCU. Among those changes were additions to the field of membership, a new name, and a new location, expansion of services offered to members, a credit union merger, a management change, and an increase in the par value of a membership share to $25.
Additions of the West Texas Medical Center and other rural area hospitals to the field of membership prompted the Board of Directors to seek a name change that would reflect the diversity of the credit union’s growing membership. NCUA approved the name change to Health Services of Abilene FCU in August of 1980. Other additions to the field of membership during this time included area nursing homes, dentists, employees of on-staff doctors, and Humana Hospital, Abilene’s newest hospital.
By 1984, Health Services of Abilene FCU had expanded member services to include term certificates, auto loans, money orders, traveler checks, payroll deductions, IRA accounts, share draft services, and credit card services.
Credit Union Growth 1959 – 1989
The sharp increase in assets, loans and shares in the late 1980s can be contributed to the increase in services and a merger with the Super Duper Credit Union in 1985. This opened the credit union field of membership to the grocery industry as well as the medical community. Assets were increased by approximately $66,000 and membership increased by 210 members with this merger.
While assets increased during this time period, the credit union’s membership numbers took its first and only decline in 1986 and 1987. This decline could be attributed to the relocation of the credit union office to an off-site location adjacent to the hospital, the increase in the par value of a membership share, and a decline in management effectiveness. This prompted the Board of Directors to recommend a change in management of the credit union. Faye Smith was hired as the new manager of Health Services of Abilene FCU in 1989 and she remains in this position to date.
While the current location of Health Services of Abilene FCU in north Abilene provided convenient service to the majority of its members, Abilene continued to see increased residential and commercial development to the south. The Board of Directors decided to add a small branch location that would serve this growing area. The branch space was rented in a small medical mall across the street from Abilene Regional Hospital, which employed approximately 1,000 potential members. The new branch offered basic teller services and a loan officer was available to grant consumer loan requests.
Management realized with a deep penetration into the medical field of membership established, the Credit Union would have to begin adding non-medical SEGs to maintain membership growth. In 1994, the Board of Directors requested and was granted an amendment to the charter that allowed the addition of Selected Employee Groups within a 25 miles radius of the facility with 200 or fewer employees and no credit union affiliations to the field of membership. Membership growth between 1990 and 1995 was significant due to the addition of the new SEGs and a marketing plan that included annual membership drives and group orientation presentations to maintain penetration in existing SEGs. In 1993, members participated in a contest to rename the credit union and the Board requested the Credit Union be renamed First Abilene Federal Credit Union in order to better reflect its ever-changing membership field.
Surveys conducted in 1996 revealed that over half of First Abilene FCU’s membership lived in south Abilene. This prompted Management to review the service provided by the branch located in south Abilene. While the south location was convenient to those employed at ARMC, it was not convenient for much of the residential area of south Abilene. The Board of Directors decided to invest in a larger, more predominant location in south Abilene. In August of 1997, a new branch facility was opened at 3324 Catclaw Dr. The facility provided members with extended daily hours, Saturday banking hours, a full service lobby including a mortgage and consumer loan department, a four lane drive-thru and a drive-up ATM.
Again asset and share growth continued, but membership growth slowed between 1996 and 1998 due to the federal injunction placed on credit unions that did not allow the addition of SEGs without a common occupational bond. HR1151 was signed into law on August 7, 1998 and non-occupational related SEGs additions were allowed to credit union membership fields. To alleviate future threats on membership growth, the Board of Directors and Management requested a conversion to a Community Charter that would include a six county geographical area. The area would include all current SEGs and allow continued service to all current members. NCUA would only approve a community charter for Taylor County. This would not allow First Abilene FCU to continue service to all of its current SEGs; therefore, the Board of Directors rejected the charter conversion. They were not willing to sacrifice continued service to current SEGs and members.
To keep up with evolving technology during this decade, First Abilene FCU made several changes in the services offered to its members. In 1991, data processing changed from a batch processor to an in-house computer system supported by Computer Marketing Corp. This in-house system provided a means for the Credit Union to offer several new services to its members such as ATM services, 24 hour, 7 day access to account information through an audio system called the PAL line, an informational website, ACH originations, and a Master Money debit card program. First Abilene FCU also developed an authorized lending relationship with Fort Worth Mortgage in 1993, which allowed the credit union to expand its mortgage-lending program. Y2K preparations became the focus in 1999 as all eyes looked forward to the 21st Century.
2000 – 2006
The new century brought many challenges for the credit union industry. It brought a historic low interest rate environment, new technology and regulatory challenges, and an increasingly competitive market. First Abilene FCU has made many changes to meet these challenges and remain competitive in this fast changing market.
In October 2000 NCUA granted First Abilene FCU the first Community Charter in the Abilene area. This opened credit union membership to anyone who works, worships, attends school, or conducts business in Taylor, Jones, Callahan, Nolan, Runnels and Eastland counties. This increased the potential membership base from 10,000 to approximately 150,000. A new location was leased for the north-side office during this time period. The old location was demolished and the land was used for expansion of the hospital campus. While the Community Charter and the office relocation allowed First Abilene to become more independent from its original sponsor, a strong relationship remains intact with Hendrick Medical Center and the medical community of Abilene.
Due to the low rate environment, First Abilene FCU has followed the industry trend of healthy loan growth and slowed share and asset growth. In April 2000, NCUA encouraged the credit union to loosen its loan policy to allow for more risk and implement a Risked-Based Pricing policy in an effort to increase loan yield. Loan officers provided on-site lending opportunities at Boat and RV shows beginning in 2003 and an indirect-lending relationship with an auto dealership that allowed the credit union to retain the lending decision was implemented in 2004. First Abilene FCU had utilized the services of a Credit Committee to make lending decisions when the loan request was outside the basic loan policy. In January 2004, all authority to make lending decisions was given to the loan officers and management and the Credit Committee became a Loan Review Committee performing a loan compliance function as well as a mid-level appeal platform. First Abilene FCU continues to explore ways to increase loan yield and increase loan volume as the market changes.
Credit Union Growth 1959 – 2009
The Banking Security Act, member data security, recent natural disasters and a techno-savvy membership base have placed a high priority on technology development for all financial institutions. With a hardware and software upgrade in 2001, First Abilene FCU was able to offer members an informational and transactional website. “Flex Teller” gave members 24-hour Internet access to account information and “1st Pay” gave them the ability to pay bills online. In July 2003, E-statements became available to the credit union membership. System security became a priority in 2004 with a firewall upgrade, intrusion detection hardware and remote vulnerability testing. While First Abilene FCU had a disaster recovery plan in place it became necessary to implement a more comprehensive plan. In May 2005, Computer Marketing Corp was contracted to supply, offsite data storage and restoration of hardware, software, and data in case of a disaster.
First Abilene FCU has implemented new services for members in an effort to remain competitive in today’s market. In January 2004, a member appreciation program offered a free 11×13 portrait to all members. A Gap/Warranty program gave members the opportunity to buy warranty or gap insurance on all financed vehicles in 2005. “Courtesy Pay,” a program offering overdraft protection on qualifying draft accounts, was implemented in September 2005. These new services helped the membership of the credit union as well as increased the return on assets in a low interest rate environment.
Return on Assets Ratio
In January 2005, the Board of Directors approved the purchase of land for a new main office facility at 1118 Pine Street. This location gave the credit union a greater presence in the business community of north Abilene. The groundbreaking ceremony was held September 21, 2005 to begin the construction project on a 1.4 million dollar main office facility. The Pine Street facility opened for business in April 2006.
This new facility offers extended business hours; expanded drive-thru lanes, an ATM and night drop services to the credit union membership. The visibility gained with the new facility has been a great factor in the membership growth for the past 2 ½ years. First Abilene FCU has seen approximately 4-5% membership growth each year since 2004 with the exception of 2006 when the credit union enjoyed an 8.8% growth in membership with the new building. Along with the new building, a computer upgrade was accomplished in 2006, which has allowed the credit union to offer more efficient service. With the economy and rate environment being low the tightening GAP continues to be a concern. First Abilene FCU is seeking ways to increase fee income and cut processing costs. The credit union changed ATM and debit card processing to the CO-OP Network giving its membership access to over 25,000 ATMs surcharge free across the nation and obtained cooperative pricing on card transactions. In the face of rising office occupancy costs, First Abilene closed 2007 with a .86% net return on assets. The credit union’s net worth maintained steady growth and closed at 11.49%.
First Abilene FCU hired a Business Development Manager in 2007 to direct and focus a marketing plan for the credit union. The first project completed was a redesign of the credit union website. The website was reorganized and given a complete facelift with a new color scheme, new informational pages and new security features. An E-bulletin advertising program was initiated in the summer of 2007. The Internet is a growing tool and it is imperative that First Abilene remains on the cutting edge of this technology.
Among the most successful programs implemented was a club account program directed to the youth market, ages 12 and under. The All Star Kids Club was launched in April of 2007 with ACE, the dog, greeting children at the FAFCU booth at Kid Fest 2007. In October 2008, ACE and several credit union employees participated in the BOO at the ZOO day. Thousands of Abileneians got to meet ACE and he is now a familiar face in our community. First Abilene takes its responsibility to educate its youngest members very seriously. The program was submitted to the Texas Credit Union Marketing Council and won honors at the marketing conference for its marketing plan and logo design in 2007 and in 2008 the new Business Development Officer won Marketing Awards for the Annual Meeting Event, TV Advertising and the $4Me Logo. Development of the Catclaw branch membership base remains a focus for the credit union. Shred Day 2007 gave the opportunity for the credit union to showcase the Catclaw branch and provide a needed service to the community. A direct mail campaign to the south side of Abilene, the area that would benefit most from the branch location, was conducted in the fall of 2007. A new loan officer was hired for the Catclaw branch during this time to handle loan demand created by the direct marketing. In the summer of 2008 the checking accounts with First Abilene FCU was revamped and the new “ Vantage Accounts” were introduced. New brochures were created to assist members with the advantages of credit union checking accounts. In September 2008 a new teen account, $4Me was created and introduced to the credit union membership.
The year 2009 brought more challenging times. With the NCUA Stabilization Assessment and the Southwest Corporate Membership Assessment, First Abilene Federal Credit Union along with all financial institutions experienced negative earnings several months.In April, 2009 our credit union celebrated our 50thAnniversary and hosted the Annual Meeting at the Abilene Zoo. Approximately 600-700 members attended and enjoyed walking through the zoo, eating hamburgers, hot dogs and listening to a live band. The first 20 chartered credit union members were recognized and honored. The last 50 years of credit union milestones were reviewed with the record attendance and celebration.
In August 2009 First Abilene FCU purchased the lot next door to the Pine Street location for $90,000.00. Parking continued to be an issue at the main branch due to limited space. To enable the credit union to purchase the land prior to the escalating price increase due to the development of Pine Street, the Board of Directors made the decision to purchase now but let the tenant lease for a period of 2 years. All insurance liabilities are the responsibility of the tenant. NCUA guidelines consider unimproved land that has been purchased for the intent of demolition to allow for future parking is to be completed in 6 years. Future plans are to demolish the existing building and expand the parking area for members and employees and the end of the lease that will expire in August 2011.
Internet and texting became the new communication for all people. FLEX Teller and Bill Pay Users continued to increase as we looked forward to fulfilling the needs of this service population. During 2010 the credit union focused on our appearance on popular social media networking sites.
In 2010 First Abilene FCU focused more on the Hispanic Community. An average of 22% of the six county area our credit union serves is Hispanic. First Abilene FCU was awarded a $2,000 grant from The Texas Credit Union League to enable the “Hispanic Outreach Program”.
In an effort to improve our contribution back to the community, First Abilene employees continued our community involvement program for the employees of the credit union. Volunteer opportunities our employees have taken part in include: delivering meals for Meals on Wheels, construction for Habitat for Humanities, and various youth programs such as the Justin Snow Football Camp, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boo at the Zoo. Employees volunteered for area boards, committees, chamber functions and charity fundraisers as well as participating with the Children Miracle Network Programs.
Financially, First Abilene FCU remained strong, maintaining a 10.69% capital ratio and a net return on assets of .81%. Although West Texas had not been as badly affected by the economy as the rest of the United States the Economic Indexes in Abilene have declined 9.7% in Retail Sales, declined 26.2% in Auto Sales, Hotel Tax declined 3.1%, Home Sales declined 18.7% and Employment declined 2.4%.
In an effort to stay on the forefront of technology, the credit union recently launched several new member service oriented applications. In March 2012 a new mobile banking platform was launched and implemented successfully. This new service has allowed members a more streamlined and efficient way of staying connected and current to their financial transactions and history. With the emergence of social media within the financial industry First Abilene launched its own Facebook page. This tool has enabled members to be informed of new changes, upcoming events, credit union activities and promotions, as well as an opportunity to give overall feedback about First Abilene FCU.
First Abilene FCU is striving to connect with its members on a whole new level as well as being a community partner. The efforts made by the credit union are evidence of how strongly we believe in giving back and how dedicated we are as a whole to providing each one of our members with the best up to date service we can. As we look toward the future First Abilene FCU will continue to educate, mentor, and lead its members to financial excellence.
First Abilene FCU has experienced excellent asset growth over the last decade passing a longtime goal of $50 million in total assets in the first quarter of 2011. The credit union is continuing to see above average growth into 2012. Membership growth has also been above average with the credit union servicing over 9,000 members by July 2012. Additional member services and a strong marketing program have contributed to this growth.
Asset / Shares / Loan Growth
Return on Assets
The Credit Union Industry as a whole has been through tough economic times for the last several years and First Abilene FCU has been financially sound throughout this period of uncertainty. Though the economic recovery has been slow, in the last year First Abilene has seen its return on assets regain its pre-recession level.