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Lutheran Federal Joins the Credit Union Movement

Chartering a credit union is no small feat. In fact Missouri hasn’t seen a new federally chartered credit union since 2005. After more than two years of perseverance, Lutheran Federal Credit Union (LFCU) received its charter from the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) on December 22, 2014. 

“The Missouri Credit Union Association, vendors and local credit union leaders provided invaluable support during this process,” says Thomas Buuck, president and chief executive officer (CEO) for LFCU. “That coupled with the overwhelmingly positive reception from our membership made Lutheran Federal Credit Union a reality.”

While headquartered in St. Louis, LFCU will have the ability to serve nearly three million people nationwide—its field of membership will include Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregations or other associated LCMS entities. LCMS comprises more than 6,100 congregations, 9,000 pastors and 850 elementary schools.

The idea to establish a faith-based credit union was initiated and overseen by the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) Board. With nearly $1.8 billion in assets, LCEF provides investments and loans to LCMS ministries in the U.S. and overseas.    

The Beginning

​Buuck and Amanda Middleton were the boots on the ground. Both worked for LCEF at the time of the chartering process. Buuck worked most recently as the senior vice president and chief credit officer. He has a 25-year background in the financial industry, having held senior level positions in public and finance companies.

Middleton has a strong background in retail banking, with two years as a lending administrator for LCEF and six years at U.S. Bank. She recently accepted the position of Operations Manager at LFCU.

Throughout the process, Middleton learned the ins and outs of credit unions, and she found the difference between banks and credit unions truly eye-opening.

“If you asked me what a credit union was two and a half years ago, I wouldn’t be able to answer it,” says Middleton. “While I gained quite a bit of knowledge in that time, one characteristic of credit unions really stands out to me—their willingness to work with each other. It’s a movement really.”    

MCUA & Credit Union Support

Keeping true to its mission to help credit unions grow, MCUA made resources available to Middleton and Buuck during the chartering process. MCUA employees met with them several times, invited them to MCUA/local credit union events and put them in contact with appropriate vendors.

“Anytime we had a question, MCUA was immediately right there,” says Middleton. “We were allowed to attend the annual convention and they connected us with other credit unions.”

Buuck and Middleton are appreciative of the introductions made by Kevin Shaw, MCUA’s director of the Office of Small Credit Unions. They named some of their most helpful credit union connections: Josh Rodriguez of Missouri Valley Credit Union, Dan Vogler and Jack Fox of Anheuser-Busch Employees’ Credit Union, and Brian Eyestone of Southpointe Credit Union.

“Over the past year and a half, they have been warm, reliable and accessible—they even responded to emails around the holidays,” says Middleton. “We still lean on them today.”

Other industry contacts like Jim Ryan, president of JMAFCU, offered insight into the core system they were looking at for LFCU. Ryan even invited them to the JM&A Group’s offices to see it firsthand.

Positive Feedback of LCMS Membership

As part of the feasibility analysis, an online survey was sent out to the LCMS membership. More than 6,000 people responded.

“The results of the online survey blew us away,” says Buuck. “More than 70 percent responded favorably to the idea of a credit union serving the LCMS membership.”

They also held six nationwide focus groups to get a better idea of banking behaviors—opinions on fees and interest rates, online/mobile banking and other transactional behaviors.

What they found was interesting.

“The participants said the credit union didn’t even necessarily have to be better than where they currently bank—half of them would switch to LFCU because of the connection to the church, while the other half was just tired of their current financial institutions,” says Buuck.

Membership feedback also played a key part in selecting a name for the credit union. Five potential names were sent to the membership in another online survey. Of the nearly 6,000 responses, half of the respondents wrote in their own suggestions—over and over again write-ins included the word Lutheran.  

“The responses showed that our membership, nationwide, wanted a name that clearly identified who we are,” says Buuck.

The Credit Union 

“Once the charter was approved, we started flipping switches,” says Middleton. “We selected a core system, Share One, and we are building it up right now.”

They took the specific needs of their membership into consideration when selecting the core system and the services that LFCU will offer. The credit union will launch with products such as online and mobile banking, remote deposit capture, auto loans, mortgages, student lending (unsecured), share drafts, certificate of deposit, term deposits and even cashiers checks.

“Our membership is nationwide, so accessibility is key to providing the service they need,” says Middleton. “Technology makes this a possibility, especially through offerings like online bill pay, mobile banking and remote capture.”

LFCU is slated to open in the second quarter of 2015, and they are currently renovating the credit union space at 10733 Sunset Office Drive, Suite 460, in St. Louis. They plan on starting the hiring process soon, anticipating a staff of up to five for the first year.

While LCEF is the sponsor group of the credit union, its board will be separate and independent. LFCU’s board members include:

  • Michael Kzirian, Cranford, N.J. — board chair
  • Sue Elsholz, Birmingham, Mich. — secretary and treasurer
  • Ken Krueger, St. Louis — vice chair
  • Randall Peterson, Gladstone, Mich. — board member
  • Richard Robertson, St. Louis — board member

The first meeting dealt with actual operations of the credit union, such as authorizing policies, approving the budget and selecting Buuck as president/CEO.

“It’s not often that a group of 30-year olds, 50-year olds and 70-year olds get to come together and build a business from scratch, but this is one such case and we are looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead,” says Buuck.

Caption: Tom Buuck and Amanda Middleton

Caption (middle): The LCEF team is hard at work during a whiteboard session regarding the credit union. 

Caption (bottom): Although not completed, the credit union should be up and running in the second quarter of 2015.