By Lindsay Castleberry and Laura Waggener
There is no shortage of banks in Lexington, but one type of financial institution has been missing from town: a credit union.
That’s about to change.
DuPont Community Credit Union, or DCCU, will open a “Lexington Member Center” on Thursday. The building — located on Route 11, just north of I-64 — will mark the 12th branch of the Waynesboro-based credit union.
The credit union may be new in town, but some area residents are already DCCU members.
Nick Martino, retail branch manager for the Lexington “member center,” said the credit union decided to open a branch here after receiving a positive response from existing members in the area.
“We solicit our members’ feedback through surveys and we had quite a few surveys with numbers asking for a branch in Rockbridge County,” Martino said. “We decided after enough member feedback that it was a market we wanted to put a branch into.”
The new facility stretches 4,200 square feet and includes a drive-through ATM. Martino said DCCU owned the land before beginning construction on the center in May. Now, six months later, it is almost ready for its debut. The branch is opening ahead of schedule, and the financial market in Rockbridge County is bracing for the additional competition.
DCCU had a “soft opening” on Thursday, Nov. 12.
On Monday, a sign will be placed on the front door of the center, officially welcoming customers. During the first week of business, the credit union will offer extended hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Regular hours will begin the following week from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Fridays.
The grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony are set to take place in early December.
“I have very high expectations [for the Lexington member center] just from all of the interest we’ve had from the community,” Martino said. “It seems like wherever we go, if we go out to eat lunch or go to the store, people are pulling us aside because they see the logo on our shirt. They’re asking when we’re opening and asking questions about the credit union, so I’m anticipating it being very successful, fairly quickly.”
Better interest rates
Credit union membership has been on the rise in recent years, according to the October report from CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance company that serves the credit union industry. In August 2015, 104.3 million Americans were credit union members, a six percent increase from two years earlier.
While banks are for-profit entities with allegiances to stockholders, credit unions are non-profit organizations. Their profits return to members in the form of higher returns on savings and lower interest rates on loans. This advantage encourages some customers to abandon their banks and open accounts at credit unions.
During the week of Nov. 9, for example, DuPont was charging 1.79 percent on loans for new vehicles, compared to Wells Fargo’s rate of 3.12 percent. And, according to the National Credit Union Administration, which regulates credit unions, the average interest rate on a four-year certificate of deposit at credit unions this fall was 1.18 percent, compared to 0.97 percent at banks.
While DCCU has grown to a dozen branches in 18 years, the organization began modestly in 1959 in the basement of an E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company employee’s house in Waynesboro. The company, commonly referred to as DuPont, is a diversified chemical company based in Delaware. In Waynesboro, the company made synthetic fibers such as Rayon.
Plant workers created the credit union with the intent of saving employees money by allowing them to borrow at low interest rates. By the end of the first year, the credit union had 1,275 accounts, $72,827 in loans, and $91,251 in assets. After 20 years, it grew to $32 million in assets with more than 7,000 members.
In 1985, DuPont Credit Union outgrew the basement and opened an office on West Main Street in Waynesboro. Twelve years later, it became a community credit union, offering membership to citizens not affiliated with DuPont. The DuPont plant was purchased by Koch Industries in 2004 and renamed Invista, which still operates in Waynesboro.
Today, the DCCU has branches along the I-81 corridor of Virginia, including ones in Staunton, Stuarts Draft, Verona, Waynesboro, and Woodstock and three in Harrisonburg. The most recent branch to open was on South High Street in Harrisonburg last May.
According to the National Credit Union Administration, DCCU now has 74,841 members and assets of $988,323,596. The NCUA insures deposits in credit unions up to $250,000 per account.
The number of financial institutions in Rockbridge County has grown in the past decade. In addition to market leaders BB&T, Cornerstone Bank and Wells Fargo, six other banks have a presence here. The only other credit union nearby, called Big Island 1013 Federal Credit Union, is located in Buena Vista.
Nency Yera, Wells Fargo’s regional banking district manager, who is based in Roanoke, said on Monday she believes the credit union provides more options for the community. However, she does not view DCCU’s Lexington office as a threat.
“Credit unions bring a lot of great benefits, and a lot of our customers actually bank at a credit union and bank with Wells Fargo, but I don’t think that’s going to be a huge impact for the [Lexington] store because we have a lot of loyal customers that bank with Wells Fargo,” Yera said.
Sarah Landram, community financial educator for DuPont’s Waynesboro sector, said she hopes the Lexington branch will draw in a diverse group of members, including students.
“We are a growing company,” Landram said. “Our plan is to continue to grow and build up membership.”
The Lexington member center will initially have six employees, including a branch manager, an assistant branch manager, and four staff members. The team, which has already been established and is undergoing training in preparation for the opening, will begin marketing through a grassroots approach.
“They are going out to local businesses and organizations and trying to generate business by word of mouth,” Landram said. “We also use paper ads, radio ads, and sometimes emails to let people know we are in the area.”
Landram said it could take a couple of years for the new credit union to generate a level of membership and that would mark success.
“When you first open a branch it’s not going to necessarily be equitable,” Landram said. “It takes a long period of time to build those assets.”