Growth spurt

Bruce Foulke is pres­id­ent and CEO of the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on. JENNY SWI­GODA / TIMES PHOTO

For the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on, “go­ing green” means a steady rise in cus­tom­ers and mon­et­ary de­pos­its.

The build­ing ad­di­tion at the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on on Red Li­on Road is a phys­ic­al rep­res­ent­a­tion of growth.

Amer­ic­an Her­it­age is grow­ing — a lot, said Mick Hilling, vice pres­id­ent for mar­ket­ing, and the 24,000 square feet ad­ded to the cred­it uni­on’s Car­riage House branch is needed to ac­com­mod­ate that growth.

The ad­di­tion also has a 2,117-square-foot, di­vid­able meet­ing room. The Great­er Bustleton Civic League, for ex­ample, ex­pects to have its Janu­ary meet­ing in that new room.

In the past three dec­ades, Amer­ic­an Her­it­age has swelled from four em­ploy­ees and 4,000 mem­bers to 312 em­ploy­ees and more than 100,000 mem­bers. It has 23 branches, the new­est of which, a 4,800-square-foot build­ing, re­cently opened at Har­bison Av­en­ue and Bridge Street. Amer­ic­an Her­it­age is now the sixth-largest cred­it uni­on in Pennsylvania.

The cred­it uni­on is adding 60 new mem­bers a day, Hilling said. On Nov. 4, more than 90 signed up.

That ex­tra boost came as part of a Face­book push to get de­pos­it­ors to move their money from the large “too big to fail” fin­an­cial in­sti­tu­tions to smal­ler banks and cred­it uni­ons. Those new Amer­ic­an Her­it­age mem­bers joined right be­fore Bank Trans­fer Day, a na­tion­al con­sumer-act­iv­ism ini­ti­at­ive on Nov. 5.

The concept was star­ted by Kristen Chris­ti­an, a Cali­for­nia wo­man an­noyed by deb­it-card fees im­posed by her bank, said Patrick Keefe, vice pres­id­ent for com­mu­nic­a­tions and com­munity out­reach of the Cred­it Uni­on Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation.

She got on Face­book and en­cour­aged her friends to take their money out of banks and move them to cred­it uni­ons, he said. About 500 said they would, Keefe ad­ded.

To say her sug­ges­tion blos­somed might be a gross un­der­state­ment.

In 2010, which Keefe called a flat year for growth, about 600,000 mem­bers joined the na­tion’s cred­it uni­ons. In Oc­to­ber alone, he said, cred­it uni­ons got 650,000 mem­bers. On Nov. 5, he said, cred­it uni­ons na­tion­wide got 40,000 new mem­bers.

The at­trac­tion for con­sumers, said Amer­ic­an Her­it­age’s pres­id­ent and CEO Bruce Foulke, is that the cred­it uni­on is not a bank. Refer to Amer­ic­an Her­it­age as a bank and Foulke im­me­di­ately will say it isn’t.

“Cred­it uni­on, not bank. Bank is a four-let­ter word,” Foulke said dur­ing an in­ter­view last week at his of­fice on Red Li­on Road.

Foulke can talk about the cred­it uni­on’s in­terest and lend­ing rates, per­son­al at­ten­tion and free ser­vices, but the biggest dif­fer­ence between a cred­it uni­on and a com­mer­cial bank, he said, is that a cred­it uni­on doesn’t ex­ist to make a profit and a com­mer­cial bank has stock­hold­ers and high-priced ex­ec­ut­ives to pay.

“Cred­it uni­ons are mem­ber-owned, not-for-profit fin­an­cial co­oper­at­ives,” he said. 

They don’t sell stock. Any profit cred­it uni­ons make goes back to mem­ber ser­vices; com­mer­cial-bank profits go to share­hold­ers, he said. 

People of­ten be­lieve they must work in a cer­tain pro­fes­sion or for a spe­cif­ic com­pany to join a cred­it uni­on. Na­tion­wide, that’s true for about two-thirds of the cred­it uni­ons, Keefe said. Cred­it uni­ons have eli­gib­il­ity re­quire­ments, but about a third have com­munity charters.

For ex­ample, to join Amer­ic­an Her­it­age, said Hilling and Foulke, a new mem­ber just has to live or work in the city. If that re­quire­ment isn’t met, mem­ber­ship eli­gib­il­ity can be achieved by pay­ing $15 to join the cred­it uni­on’s found­a­tion. 

Foulke said an­oth­er at­trac­tion is that Amer­ic­an Her­it­age doesn’t nick­el-and-dime its mem­bers with a lot of fees. ATM use is free, and mem­bers have ac­cess to about 30,000 ATMs across the coun­try. 

There’s even a smart-phone app that will tell you where the nearest ATM is, Hilling said. In a few months, any device that in­cludes a cam­era will be able to be used to make re­mote check de­pos­its, Foulke said.

He picked up an iPad, signed onto the Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Web site, and held his iPad over a check, clicked, and fol­low­ing prompts, he turned the check over and clicked on the en­dorsed side. The bank’s com­puter will scan the check to make sure it’s real. If all that is suc­cess­ful, the de­pos­it will be made. The pro­gram won’t let you de­pos­it the same check again.

This is just an ex­ample of how tech­no­logy is mak­ing life easi­er for the cred­it uni­on’s mem­bers.

An­oth­er fea­ture, Foulke said, is Amer­ic­an Her­it­age’s Per­son­al Auto­mated Tell­er, or PAT, which is an in­ter­act­ive ma­chine that puts a cus­tom­er in touch with “a real live tell­er” who can ac­cept de­pos­its, give money like an ATM, and an­swer ques­tions. PATs in­clude cam­er­as, which will add se­cur­ity when they’re placed out­doors, he said.

Hilling said mem­bers who were sur­veyed have a 97 per­cent pos­it­ive as­sess­ment of Amer­ic­an Her­it­age. About 9,000 sur­veys, sev­er­al pages long, were sent out, he said, and 1,700 came back.

Foulke likes to think that ser­vice is the cred­it uni­on’s biggest selling point.

“The ser­vice level is totally dif­fer­ent,” Foulke said. “People get to know you as a mem­ber. You can e-mail the CEO, and I an­swer.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

Not a bank …

Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on was foun­ded in 1948 for em­ploy­ees of the Budd Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co. The name was changed to Amer­ic­an Her­it­age in 1985.

Ad­dress: 2060 Red Li­on Road

Phone: 1-800-342-0008

Web site:­h­

Branches: 23

Mem­bers: More than 100,000

Spe­cial event: There will be 3,000 seats avail­able for the cred­it uni­on’s Grand Il­lu­min­a­tion of a large Christ­mas tree, 7 to 8 p.m. on Sat­urday, Nov. 26. 

The cel­eb­ra­tion will fea­ture a fire­works dis­play, Phil­adelphia Boys Choir, and Fifes and Drums of the Old Bar­racks. Meet Ben Frank­lin and friends, too.

Rain Date: Sat­urday, Dec. 3

You can reach at

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