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Boro credit unions find a niche
GeoVista, CORE serve thousands in Bulloch
Bobby Michael is president and CEO of CORE Credit Union in Statesboro. He is shown above in the Boro office.
            Founded in 1974, Statesboro-based CORE Credit Union began with one employee, Martha Moses, who operated the credit union out of a room at Sallie Zetterower Elementary School. At its inception, the credit union only offered savings accounts to its members: local teachers. Today, CORE, an acronym for Central Ogeechee River Educators, has more than 6,000 members and 19 employees serving more than 40 employee groups in Bulloch, Effingham, Bryan, Emanuel, Evans, Jenkins, Screven and Candler counties. Its services have expanded to include such things as checking, consumer loans, business loans, mortgages, CDs, and IRAs.Many people believe credit unions such as CORE operate just like a bank, but there are significant differences between the two institutions.

“Credit unions are tax exempt under 501(c) (1), and operate as a nonprofit,” said Bobby Michael, CEO and president of CORE. “We are a nonprofit, financial cooperative. We are owned by our members.”

According to the Credit Union National Association based in Madison, Wisc., credit unions are financial institutions formed by an organized group of people with a common bond. Members of credit unions pool their assets to provide loans and other financial services to each other and are considered a not-for-profit cooperative.

"There are several types of financial institutions in our community that are chartered to meet different needs of the consumers,” said David Beaubien, president of Citizens Bank of Bulloch County. “Banks and credit unions are among the several different options that consumers have here in Bulloch County.  Ultimately, consumers have the choice of what institutions they use that best meet their financial needs. Credit unions are membership based whereas banks can offer services to anyone."

It is true that in the past, credit union membership has been limited to specific employee groups, but many credit unions such as CORE and GeoVista (formerly Fort Stewart Georgia Federal Credit Union) have received permission to open their membership up to any citizen in living in designated areas. That person does not have to be a member of an approved employee group.

“In February 2007, the Georgia Department of Banking, granted CORE a field of membership which allows us to serve any resident of Bulloch County,” Michael said. “Now anyone living here can shop rates between banks and us and have the opportunity to get alternative financing.”

Michael said it is important for consumers to understand the fundamental differences between the two institutions – banks and credit unions.

“Credit unions were originally chartered in the early nineteenth century to help people with modest means,” he said. “We are not here to make a profit; we are here to help our members. Since we are not profit driven, we can typically provide loans at lower rates, and pay more in interest. We need to make enough to keep our reserves at the appropriate level, but again, as an institution, we are not here to make a profit, and we are governed by a volunteer board of directors.”

Deposits in credit unions are insured just like deposits in banks. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) is the federal agency that charters and supervises federal credit unions. They also insure savings in federal and most state-chartered credit unions across the country through the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), a federal fund backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.

GeoVista Credit Union, based in Hinesville, has seen its member numbers continue to grow as well. With the ability to provide membership to anyone in certain areas, GeoVista recently changed its name from the Fort Stewart Georgia Federal Credit Union to GeoVista to reflect its broadening scope.

“GeoVista Credit Union is proud and excited to introduce a series of changes designed to better serve our members and the community,” said Elaine Tuten, GeoVista’s CEO  “The name sums up the way we build relationships with members in two simple words:  ‘worldwide and vision’. These words convey our commitment to help members in every stage of their life, wherever they live, and that we’ll attempt to meet them at the exact level of their needs.”            With membership opportunities becoming far less restrictive, credit unions are now able to make their case to the public, therefore putting them in direct competition with local banks for provision of many services. Michael feels his credit union is prepared to do that.“An important thing that differentiates credit unions from banks is our service,” Michael said. “Since we are owned by our members/customers we pride ourselves on providing outstanding service.  Especially in light that the persons across the teller counter or loan desk from our CORE employees are the owners of the company.”            As of Feb. 29, 2008, CORE Credit Union listed assets of $37 million, loans totaling $28.8 million, and shares totaling $33.9 million. It had 6,651 members as of that date.
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