Charlotte but a cultural distancethat diminishes every year asNorth Carolina’s biggest city extends its bedroom communitiessouth of the border into York andLancaster counties.
Textiles dominated those counties when the credit union wasfounded in 1950 as Springs Employee Federal Credit Union. Itsbranches still reflect the footprintof Springs Industries, which oncehad the state’s largest network oftextile mills.
The credit union, whichchanged its name to Foundersin 1993, is now South Carolina’slargest credit union based on its31 branches in the state. Its assets were just a few bucks shortof $3 billion as of Sept. 30, but itwould easily surpass that marknext year if it gets approval frommembers and the NCUA to acquire ArrowPointe Federal CreditUnion based in neighboring YorkCounty. ArrowPointe had $181.8million in assets, 17,823 members and seven branches, many ofthem overlapping Founders’ corearea.
However, most of Founders’growth depends on building itsmembership further from theshadow of Charlotte and deeperinto South Carolina’s Upstate andMidlands areas.
One way it has chosen to do thatis to work the human geographyof university loyalties. In SouthCarolina the biggest (and loud-est) tribes are the U of S.C. Gamecocks and the Tigers at ClemsonUniversity.
In 2016, Founders opened a
branch just outside the Clem-
son campus, 200 miles west of
Lancaster. The following year,
Founders announced a seven-
year partnership, for which the
credit union could display its
brand prominently in Clemson’s
football stadium, basketball court
and other areas of campus. It also
sponsored events and supported
Clemson’s then-new bike share
Founders’ big move on U of S.C.came in the spring of 2015 when it
won a bid to open a branch in theheart of the campus in a buildingcalled the Russell House, whichhouses the university bookstore,restaurants and other shops.
Founders asked Matt Nichols,then a 30-year-old branch manager in Lancaster County, to move toColumbia to open the branch. Hegrew up in Lancaster, graduatedfrom U of S.C. in 2007 and joinedFounders the next year.
“I jumped at the opportunity,”
he said. He was to be the face of
Founders in the new market, and
its mission was to get as many stu-
dents, employees and staff at the
university to join the credit union.
“We were looking to expandinto Columbia. That was the nextmarket we wanted to get into,” hesaid. “The partnership with theuniversity was our foot in the doorin being able to do so.”
He arrived in Columbia in June2015 and opened the branch inJuly. The branch was a success,with Nichols and his crew open-ing 50 to 60 accounts in the firstfew months.
In 2016, Founders signed a $7million, 10-year deal with U ofS.C., gaining rights to renamethe university’s baseball stadiumFounders Park and extend itsname further onto campus.
Meanwhile, Founders opened
two new off-campus branches in
Columbia by 2018, and promoted
Nichols in 2019 to vice president
of the Columbia market, giving
him the reins of all three branches.
For campus branches at theuniversities of South Carolina andMaine, the largest crop of newmembers are harvested duringfreshmen orientation. Both creditunions have planned carefullyaround these events so they canget the attention of the new students – and their parents.
Stacey Young, University CU’svice president of operations, saidthe credit unionoften is creatinga student’s firstchecking account.“With our campus branch managers being certified financialadvisors, it alwaysputs our parentsat ease that there’s someone herethat can help guide them,” Youngsaid.
Then, of course, cameCOVID- 19.
U of S.C. shut down its campusin March, and with it the RussellHouse branch. There were no on-campus orientations last summer,but the university did decide tocautiously reopen in the fall.
The university gave Founders permission Aug. 3 to reopenthe Russell House branch afterapproving its safety protocols.Founders erected plastic barriers,required masks and put decalson the floor to display proper social distancing. But it also had tolimit the number of people in thebranch to four – just two employees and two members.
In Maine, the pandemic created major challenges for University CU, based in Orono, home ofthe main campus of the Universityof Maine and 40 miles from theAtlantic.
Campus branches are coreoperations for the Maine creditunion with three of its eightbranches on one of the stateuniversity system’s campuses.
The pandemic triggered a shutdown of University of Maine campuses, and the credit union shutall its branches to walk-in trafficMarch 17, allowing only drive-upservice.
“All of a sudden our traffic dried
up,” Young said. “We had very
little access to our students and
In other locations, credit unions
have sent members to interac-
tive teller machines and ATMs.
However, some of University CU’s
interactive teller machines and
ATMs were in buildings that were
“We had to think quick on our
feet and reach out to campus lead-
ership to figure out how we could
get in to service them, and how
our members could reach them,”
Young said. “In the end, they were
The credit union began reopen-
ing branches in June under safety
protocols similar to Founders’
measures: Erecting partitions, re-
quiring masks, maintaining social
distancing and limiting the num-
ber of visitors.
Maine’s campuses opened attheir usual times in late August,requiring students to be testedon arrival and quarantine in thedorms until they got their results.By Sept. 9, all its branches hadreopened.
Some students have chosento continue learning online. Forthose on campus, cafeterias aren’topen and congregating is limited.
“Even though campus is open,it is a lot quieter,” she said.
Freshman orientations wereheld online at South Carolina andMaine, and new account openingshave taken a hit. In strategic planning, the credit union is thinkingof the pandemic’s effects as both achallenge and opportunity, Youngsaid.
“It’s one of those unknowns ofCOVID. We don’t know if this is apermanent change or a very temporary change,” she said. “We’llbe flexible and fluid – that’s ourmotto.” n
CollegesCONT. FROM PAGE 1
Y CUs on South Carolina and Maine universitycampuses try to adjust to the COVID reality.
Y In Maine, campus branches are some CUs’core operations, and have seen significantdrops in traffic and account openings.
Y The campus branches are attempting to figureout if the pandemic behavioral shifts arepermanent.
The Russell House branch on the U of S.C. campus. Matt Nichols at his desk.
‘All of a sudden our
traffic dried up. We had
very little access to our
students and faculty.’