Two decades ago, the naval base and shipyard in Charleston, S.C., closed after nearly a century in operation. Counting the ripple effect, the closure eliminated nearly one-third of the area’s jobs by some estimates.
Those memories resurfaced when the federal government induced automatic spending cuts in April because the region maintains a strong military presence.
“When we started hearing about sequestration, I think it raised the neck hairs of the folks who had been around in 1994 to say, ‘OK, how can we proactively reach out and assist this group?’” says Meredith Siemens, vice president of corporate communications for South Carolina Federal Credit Union in Charleston. “It’s a sensitive area around here, and we try to make sure that when that workforce takes a hit, we’re watching out.”
The $1.3 billion asset credit union quickly responded with a special pricing package for active-duty personnel. The Military-Friendly Program, unveiled in mid-June at South Carolina Federal’s grand re-opening of its Naval Weapons Station branch in Goose Creek, S.C., offers fee-free checking and the following benefits:
►0.5% vehicle loan rate discount;
►Free foreign ATM use, cashier’s checks, instant issue debit cards, debit card replacement, e-statements and bill pay;
►Access to the debit card rewards program;
►Increased dividends on accounts carrying at least $2,500; and
►Safe deposit box discount.
“We’re literally putting our money where our mouth is,” Siemens says. “A lot of people say they really support the military, and want to do anything they can for them. We wanted to take the time to create a military program that really did do that.”
Credit union representatives met with a military focus group to determine which products and services would hold the most appeal. That’s par for the course for South Carolina Federal, which earlier set up a special military call center in response to feedback that personnel stationed overseas had difficulty plugging in to the credit union’s online and telephone banking systems.
South Carolina Federal began in 1936 as a credit union for naval shipyard workers and boasts a sizable military presence among its membership, but there’s plenty of room to grow. Joint Base Charleston encompasses about 20,000 people, and every year Fort Jackson, a U.S. army base in Columbia, S.C., trains more than 45,000 soldiers.
“From our founding and our history, being able to pay that back 77 years down the road, that’s neat,” Siemens says.