Northwest Business Magazine

Success Stories: Cornerstone Credit Union

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Consistency isn’t the only thing this 80-year-old credit union has in its arsenal of financial tools. Discover how values and customer service separate this local institution from its rivals.

At Cornerstone Credit Union, Lorna Cote (left) and Gail Clore (right) provide solutions to people with financial struggles. They also give back to the community by awarding scholarships to high school students and providing aid to those in poverty.

At Cornerstone Credit Union, Lorna Cote (left) and Gail Clore (right) provide solutions to people with financial struggles. They also give back to the community by awarding scholarships to high school students and providing aid to those in poverty.

When it comes to a successful business, there’s something to be said about consistency.

Customers want something they’re comfortable with, and with a rock-solid history that spans nearly 80 years, it’s easy to find comfort with Cornerstone Credit Union (CCU).

“‘The Struggle is Real’ is our branding message,” Marketing Director Lorna Cote says. “We understand people in our communities have struggles, whether it’s flooded homes or a car that’s broken down. We’re here to provide solutions, such as an affordable loan to get your home or car repaired. That’s where this theme comes from; helping people with financial struggles is always the foundation of what we do.”

CCU serves 14,000 members in 11 northwest Illinois and southern Wisconsin counties. Its asset size is $110 million with three full-service branches in Freeport, Sterling and South Beloit, Ill.

CCU was chartered on Nov. 1, 1939, as Micro Switch Employees’ Credit Union (MSECU). Freeport Postal Employees CU, a small, local credit union, merged into MSECU in 2000. A second was formed with Midwest Community CU of Sterling in 2001 and a third merger included Freeport City Employees CU in 2015.

“In 2001, we changed our name to Cornerstone Credit Union, to represent what we thought was our future,” says CCU President Gail Clore, who just celebrated 25 years with the credit union. “Cornerstone denotes a rock-solid, sound foundation, which is what we represent as a financial institution.”

Since CCU is a nonprofit financial cooperative, if you join the credit union, not only do you own a part of it, you have a say in how it’s run.

“Anyone who lives or works in our 11 area counties can become a member-owner of our credit union, or, if they’re related to someone who is a member,” Cote says. “If they are eligible for membership, they’ll start with a $25 deposit into their savings account, which represents their share of the credit union.”

The members of the credit union have the ability to vote for the credit union’s 10-member volunteer board of directors. The board oversees and guides the credit union, similar to other nonprofit boards, such as for the United Way. Not only do they set policy and plan the vision of the credit union, they also oversee the president.

“Our members are at the top of our organization,” Clore says.

In addition to your banking needs, CCU exists to serve people and give back to the community.

The credit union gives out two, sometimes three, Founders’ Scholarships each year to graduating high school students who are CCU members. Each scholarship is dispersed over a four-year period to encourage and promote graduation. Since the program’s inception in 1998, CCU has awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships to area youth to attend an accredited college, university, community college or technical/trade school.

“We hope students go to college and come back to the area to work,” Clore says. “We believe a good place to live, work and play is right here in northwest Illinois, so this is one way we can support that belief.”

The credit union also recently partnered with 13WREX to put on the fourth annual Freeport Food Drive. This year, more than two tons of food was donated, plus more than $2,200 in monetary donations, of which Cornerstone gave $1,000.

“Poverty in the communities we serve is anywhere from 20 to 30 percent,” Clore says. “Our goal is to be here tomorrow and in order to achieve this, our members have to think we’re doing most things right. For 78 years, we’ve been doing just that, whether it’s providing affordable financial services to meet our members’ needs or demonstrating giving back to our members in the communities CCU serves.”

CCU wants to do what it can to make banking easy in today’s busy lifestyle environment. Members enjoy managing their accounts with the ease and convenience of today’s technology through online and mobile banking.

“We are adaptable and try to follow technology,” Clore says. “For example, you can use our app to turn your debit card off and on, or send money to someone across the country.”

Cornerstone operates by the “people helping people” philosophy of credit unions that distinguishes them from many other financial institutions. CCU also offers financial education, advising members on financial decision-making. Among other things, CCU helps members make important, life-changing purchases, like a car or home.

“Who teaches someone who has never bought a car or house what to do or ask?” Clore says. “These are the kinds of things we do at Cornerstone. I’ve seen people who just finished college and have $20,000 in student loans, yet they want a brand new $25,000 car. I don’t mind educating someone and letting them know a used car may be a better option because they’re going to need additional money for other things like rent, a cell phone and insurance.”

In addition to education, the credit union also makes purchasing a car easier. The credit union has about 45 indirect relationships with automobile dealers in the region.

“Our members can use the credit union to affordably finance a car,” Clore says. “We have many of the same services you see in a bank, only the difference is we roll them out as our members need them and use them. There’s no sense offering something our membership does not need or want.”

Credit unions are a great fit for community development neighborhoods such as South Beloit. There’s a branch in South Beloit currently, but CCU is seeking a bigger presence, and a larger, up-to-date branch.

So, CCU is renovating a 3,500-square-foot facility in the former bank building on Blackhawk Blvd., in South Beloit. It’s slated to open in late spring.

“By creating this space, we can build a stronger bond with the community,” Clore says. “We really want the city to be proud of the facility that we’re renovating.”

Among other things, the South Beloit location will have three drive-thru lanes with a drive-up ATM machine. There will also be teller pods on the inside. Members will have access to an iPad for completing applications, which will expedite service.
“Our members will really enjoy it,” Clore says. “We’re trying to build with tomorrow in mind.”

Clore adds if you’ve ever been interested in a credit union, or if you’re just curious, now is a good time to give them a shot.

“Ever since the financial crisis a decade ago, the exposure of credit unions has been heightened,” Clore says. “If someone has not considered joining a credit union, they should check us out because we have a lot to offer.”

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