Northwest Business Magazine

MembersAlliance Marks 75th Anniversary

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Born out of a small group of Sundstrand employees, this credit union has grown into a strong financial resource for many in our region.

Milestone, 2013: Cheryl Sio joined the staff in 1975 and was named president of MembersAlliance Credit Union in 1984.

Dial the number for MembersAlliance Credit Union, and a pleasant surprise awaits: A real person answers the phone. That little nicety reveals a lot about the atmosphere at MembersAlliance, which was originally Sundstrand Credit Union and will celebrate its 75th anniversary in December. Tellers often greet customers on site, by name.

“MembersAlliance is all about personal service,” says President Cheryl Sio, who’s worked here since 1975 and has been president since 1984.

“People come up to me when we’re out and about somewhere and they say, ‘I’ve been a member 30 years,’” says Lorna Cote, director of marketing. “And they say it with pride. It’s that common bond: I’m part of your family.”

They’re also part owners. A key difference from banks is that credit union members’ accounts are considered “shares.” Basically, it’s a locally owned, not-for-profit cooperative bank.

With 18,000 members today in Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties, that family atmosphere might have faded just a little from the days when it was all Sundstrand employees, but it’s still visible.

Small Beginnings

The lingering economic stranglehold of the Great Depression provided an environment in which a new credit union could thrive.

“Your average worker couldn’t get a loan from a bank,” Sio says. “That’s how this all started. A pool of Sundstrand employees got together and, really, it was that pool of people lending their money to their co-workers.”

The Sundstrand Credit Union’s first secretary-treasurer wrote about its early history in the 1978 annual report – the credit union’s 40th anniversary.

“In 1938, there was a discussion amongst the officers of the Sundstrand Association regarding the formation of a credit union to aid the employees to save money and also to have a means of repaying loans on which they had to pay a healthy interest. An organizing committee met with management to make plans, which included the use of payroll deductions for purchase of shares and repayment of loans.”

The State of Illinois granted a charter to the Sundstrand Credit Union on Dec. 10, 1938, and the credit union soon opened inside Sundstrand’s 11th Street plant. The first Board of Directors was named Jan. 5, 1939, “to conduct the business of selling shares and making out the paperwork for loans.”

    Among the early motions adopted by the board:

  • No member could own more than $100 in shares (that’s the credit union equivalent of an account balance; it would be raised to $200 in June 1939).
  • Loans would be limited to $50 per member (this would be raised to $100 in June and $200 in October).
  • The interest rate on an unpaid loan balance would be 1 percent. Loans had to be paid back within 10 months.
  • Any member must have been employed by Sundstrand 90 days before being eligible for a loan.

Company records show the credit union’s 1939 assets at $1,371.28 in cash, plus $3,675.25 in loans, for a total of $5,046.53. Total membership was 175 Sundstrand employees. The credit union’s assets grew rapidly that first year. By fall, “The Board was beginning to discuss the advisability of financing new car loans.” In November, advertising was posted, advising members to check with the Credit Union about financing purchases of household appliances for Christmas.

By the early 1940s, Sundstrand was running two shifts, and employing women for the first time, churning out airplane parts for the Allied war effort.

In the coming decades, membership numbers would grow astronomically, as Sundstrand established itself as a major employer in the aerospace industry. Credit union membership was 844 by 1950, 2,939 by 1960 and 5,416 by 1970. Assets topped $2 million by 1960, $10 million by the 40th anniversary in 1978.

Still, the small-time, family atmosphere was never far beneath the surface. Sio remembers, in the 1970s, keeping each day’s working cash fund – $500 – in a metal fishing tackle box. Bookkeepers also kept hand-written account ledgers between official updates from data processing, which arrived every two weeks.

A Wider Membership

By the 1980s, the credit union had outgrown its headquarters on 11th St., so in 1983, ground was broken for a stand-alone location at 2550 S. Alpine Road, across Harrison Avenue from Sundstrand’s (now UTC Aerospace Systems) main headquarters. The building opened the following year.

Many people have contributed to the credit union’s growth and success in creating a financial partner local people could turn to for services. Building MembersAlliance as a key financial institution in the community was truly a cooperative effort. Over the years, the volunteer Board of Directors gave of their time and expertise to guide the business, making sure the mission was accomplished: To be the leader in our community in providing financial products, exceptional service and financial education. “Also, our dedicated staff members, past and current, have contributed to our long-term success,” commented Sio.

Lorraine Peterson, SCU president from 1960-1984, had a significant role in making MembersAlliance what it is today. She was a leader who went to great lengths to ensure the credit union would stay in front in the way of service to its members for years to come.

Even larger changes came in the 1990s, when the credit union was granted a community charter, allowing membership to anyone living or working in Winnebago, Boone or Ogle counties.

“We became a community credit union rather than what used to be called a sponsor-based credit union,” Sio says. The change came in stages. Membership first opened to select employee groups in the area, and later to the public.

In 1991, the name was changed to MembersAlliance, to reflect the true definition of the community charter and the unifying purpose of the credit union.

Today, MembersAlliance assets stand at about $155 million. The credit union employs 63 people and has five locations: the main office on South Alpine, another at Olde Creek and Perryville Roads, and three inside area Walmart stores: Walton Street (East State Street), West Riverside Boulevard and Rockton Road.

“The Walmart decision had a lot to do with convenience for the members and potential members,” Cote says. “You can imagine the traffic count of people passing by. We use the term ‘bank where you shop.’ I believe the No. 1 thing people look for in a financial institution is convenience.”
There’s also the challenge of educating the public on exactly what a credit union is, and how it differs from a bank.

“There’s still a perception that you have to work for a certain employer to belong to a particular credit union,” Sio says. “The term ‘member’ can be misleading,” adds Cote. “People think it’s an exclusive club or it will cost them an annual membership fee. The word ‘union’ better defines what it is. People know that a union is a group of people working toward the same effort, and that it’s a cooperative.”

Financial education has been a vital ingredient of the credit union’s overall mission; they hold free seminars throughout the year for members and non-members, and participate in community-wide efforts such as Money Smart Week, and Goodwill’s Dollars & Sense and VITA programs.

“We have branded MembersAlliance as a service-oriented, community credit union, because, well, that’s what we are,” added Cote. People also know us by our jingle; if you say the name ‘MembersAlliance Credit Union’, someone in the room might just start singing, ‘You Can Rely On Us!’.”

MembersAlliance will be offering some special events to celebrate their 75th anniversary date this December.

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