Since 1946, Fort Financial Credit Union has been steadfast in looking after the financial wellbeing of its members. Its rich history and straightforward financial approach have helped the credit union achieve a solid track record of growth. Together with a strong team of management and staff, President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Collins aims to keep that momentum going.
“For 75 years we’ve been growing, and growing strong,” says Collins, “and we’re going to continue to get better.”
In the last six years alone, Fort Financial has grown its assets from $200 million to $350 million, an increase of 75%. Such growth doesn’t happen by accident; it comes as the result of careful planning and intentional decision-making.
“We’re always looking ahead,” Collins emphasizes. “Improvements you see today reflect considerations we made at least a year or two beforehand. It’s all part of a very deliberate process.”
That process consists of four primary focus areas: access, development, experience and growth. Each is intricately connected with the others, and all four revolve around the member.
Senior Vice President and Chief Lending Officer J. Arnold explains, “We are changing and adapting to what members are looking for, as opposed
to simply doing things the way financial institutions have always done them.”
Access, for example, consists of more than the feature-rich banking app Fort Financial launched last year that empowers members to serve themselves at their convenience. It also includes ensuring employees can connect to banking and member information that allows them to serve members without having to refer them to someone else.
“Whatever the member needs,” says Collins, “it’s our strategy that the person talking to them should always be able to help them.”
This is where access intersects with development. While having more information certainly helps, knowing what to do with it makes the difference. When members reach the call center, for example, the person answering the phone should be able to help the member from start to finish. According to Collins and Arnold, that necessitates a shift from the siloed atmosphere of a traditional financial institution to one of information sharing and empowerment.
“Our front-line staff must have a much deeper level of expertise, and that requires a change in our thought processes,” explains Arnold. “We have to help develop our employees so they feel empowered to make decisions and can help members as much as possible.”
As evidence of their commitment to staff development at all levels, Fort Financial hired a former executive coach to be the credit union’s training and development manager. They are also building training facilities and collaboration areas into their brick-and-mortar spaces, and they have introduced a series of engagement tools to provide periodic pulse checks.
“Staff engagement is extremely important to us,” stresses Collins. “When people see a need, we want them to be confident enough to fill it.”
Understandably, access and development directly affect member experience which, says Collins, is a much broader concept than customer service. It means ensuring consistent interactions, creating a high-quality service experience, providing the financial instruments people need, and being present in the financial arena as well as the community at large. In addition, responsibility for raising the bar on member experience requires companywide participation.
“It’s all hands on deck to enhance member experience,” says Collins.
Experience, of course, leads to growth, particularly when it involves enhancing the product offering. Recently, Fort Financial expanded into business lending in order to serve members with small and mid-sized business interests. The credit union has also joined a participation group that allows it to service larger and more complex loans. A combination of competitive pricing, local decision making, and experienced staff has already stirred interest and generated several new loans.
“It doesn’t have the feel that we’re just starting this,” Collins reflects. “The three people leading our business lending efforts have more than 50 years of collective experience. We’re a size that lets us respond and customize while having the expertise to stay relevant.”
Though the success of any business is typically measured by financial growth, physical growth matters to Fort Financial, too. Having accessible, welcoming physical locations in areas that make doing business convenient, directly affects access and member experience. By the end of the year, Fort Financial will move its headquarters from its current Spring Street location to a newly constructed office on Lima Road. A new branch on St. Joe Center Road at Maplecrest is set to be completed even sooner, and construction recently began on a third location at Parkwest Center on West Jefferson Boulevard.
“We want to be more present for the community,” explains Collins. “We’re not necessarily looking to be on every street corner, but we want to be where people can see us and where they need us.”
The new offices will round out existing standalone branches in Fort Wayne, Auburn, Angola, and Churubusco, as well as Corinth, Mississippi, and Gastonia, North Carolina, which serve communities associated with Fort Financial’s early days as Dana Corporation Federal Credit Union. Collins notes that the new offices have been designed to create opportunities for community, both inside and outside the credit union. The headquarters building, for example, will feature flexible space that can be adapted to changing needs.
Fort Financial’s community involvement reaches far beyond its own walls. The credit union proudly sponsors events around the region, as well as providing support for programs such as Junior Achievement’s 3DE initiative. It offers financial education courses through not-for-profits and corporations, and employees are given paid time off for community service activities.
“We aim to be responsive and community focused,” says Arnold. “We want to make an impact that’s bigger than our actual size.”
As Fort Financial moves into its 76th year of operation, it has more than earned a place as a pillar of the community. With a solid foundation and new attitude, the Fort Financial team wants to expand its impact even further.
“We’ve combined products, service, and technology with member experience in a way that other institutions just don’t offer,” says Collins. “Our goal is not just to be competitive, but also to be convenient and relevant for our current and future members.”
Owner(s): President/CEO: Steve Collins
Address: 3102 Spring St., Fort Wayne, Indiana 46808
Phone: (260) 432-1561
Years in Business: 76; founded in 1946
Number of Employees: 100
Products & Services: 10 branch locations, offering retail banking and business lending services