April Clobes is an MSU alumna and the president and chief executive officer of the Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. She joins Spartans Athletic Director Bill Beekman for this MSU Today conversation. Beekman is a member of the MSUFCU board of directors.
“We began in 1937 and we recently celebrated our 83rd anniversary,” Clobes says in discussing the credit union’s beginnings. “Credit unions are membership-based non-profit cooperatives. They work a lot like some of the things that you might see today like a GoFundMe.”
Clobes says MSUFCU continues to embrace the latest technology to provide members with the best possible service. There’s even an “Ask Fran” chat bot to help answer members’ questions on the credit union’s website. Fran was the credit union’s first employee. She was hired in 1957 and worked there for 30 years.
MSUFCU is offering its members loan extensions, Savings Builder plans, and increased online engagement opportunities during the pandemic. The branches are considered essential businesses and remain open.
“We have found ways to serve members while meeting all the health department, state of Michigan, and MIOSHA orders. We have the branches set up with markers on the floors. There's plexiglass. And we have a mask requirement. The drive-ups are available for those who don't want to come inside a branch. We've seen unprecedented volumes in our call center and our online services team, a 250 percent increase over last year. And we were able to continually serve our members and get their questions and ease their fears during this time with the same number of employees as last year, even though we had such an increase in volumes. The team has really risen to the occasion on living our mission and serving the members during these really challenging times.
“We've had quite a robust suite of digital products since the early 2000s. You can certainly do everything online,” Clobes adds when detailing some of the credit union’s new offerings like CVVKey and increased video chat opportunities. And she explains how important the physical branches are to members, even during our increasingly digital society.
“I get often asked, ‘Why are you putting a branch up when people don't need branches anymore?’ We certainly wouldn't build branches if it wasn't good for business. Every day, I get member requests for a branch in their community. Those of us who are asking why we keep building branches tend to be the members that are fortunate enough to have a branch pretty accessible to them. We're probably rare in that we opened two brand new branches in the last eight months during the pandemic. And those branches within two to three months of opening have done an incredible amount of business, even with reduced in-person interactions during the pandemic time. We see tremendous growth any time that we open a branch.
“In fact, every time we've opened a branch, within three years of the branch opening in the region that it opened, the members almost doubled their deposits or their loan balances with us. And then we grow about 30 percent in new members. And that's a pretty significant model to follow for growth for the organization. Now, those folks may come in once every three or four months, but they still want to have a local presence for their financial institution. And there's just something about that physical location that makes you feel connected to your financial institution that people look for close to their home.”
Clobes details the MSUFCU philanthropy ethos, particularly as it relates to MSU Athletics, the Wharton Center’s Broadway Series and its Institute for Arts & Creativity, and scholarship and academic support for students.
By Russ White