Interview: Debra P. Innocent, Vice-President Marketing, United Nations Federal Credit Union (UNFCU)
Q: Your slogan is “Serving the People who serve the World‚.” What do you put into this?
A: Actually, we put everything into it. For us, serving the people who serve the world really comes first and foremost, starting with our core values. We have four core values and one of them is providing high-quality service to our members. So, “Serving the People who Serve the World” really becomes very focused on a service culture, which is the culture at UNFCU. This culture is inculcated in our training programmes. There is a specific programme called BEST, Bringing Excellence to Service and Teamwork, and all our staff goes through it, including senior management. It is all about how to service members, how to research and respond to member queries via the telephone, how to interact with a member to best serve their needs and how to interact internally too, because not only do we cater to our members who are the United Nations staff, the specialized agencies, their families, retirees, but we also collaborate with colleagues on projects which benefit our members globally. Service really becomes critical, not only outside, but also inside the institution. No matter what you do, when you are able to create an atmosphere and culture of service that is always your focus.
A financial cooperative, UNFCU was founded in 1947 by volunteer-employees of the UN with the support of the UN Administration, who recognized the need to provide staff, relocating to New York, with grants. When we started we focused on New-York-based UN staff members. Then we extended our membership to family members and after that we expanded to include the international arena, that is, any persons working in the UN, its specialized agencies, their families and retirees outside the United States. Little by little, the UNFCU has grown, and we have become more focused on offering financial solutions to the global UN community, whether here in New York, in Bangkok or in Gambia. We really want to serve the people who serve the world, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, whichever agency you are working for. We want to be able to assist you with your financial needs, attaining your financial goals. Yes, serving the people who serve the world is definitely our guiding principle.
Q: UNFCU is well known in New York among the UN staff, but I feel that quite a lot of people in Geneva do not really know what you are doing. Would you be so kind as to tell us some more about the UNFCU?
A: UNFCU has close ties to the UN globally and was established shortly after the UN’s founding. The first employees were volunteers and since then we have grown both domestically and internationally while retaining our focus on personalized service. We have two full-service branches in New York, which support Manhattan and the surrounding areas. There are four UNFCU Representative Offices outside the United States: two in Geneva (there is, in fact, one in the ILO, while the main office can be found in the ITU); one in Vienna; and one in Nairobi. In addition to these offices, we have liaison representatives. They are volunteers, individuals who work for the agencies and who really believe in UNFCU because they are members. Some have been members for a long time, whereas others are very new. They believe in the institution in terms of what we do for the members, how we assist them and because we are very focused on service. Those particular individuals really become our liaison between UNFCU and the members in the field. So, for example, we have a liaison representative in Chile, and he is the individual who the members would go to if they needed basic information. The representative would then contact us directly and we are able to respond right away. We have a number of individuals throughout the different agencies around the world. In this way, we really try to stay connected. In addition, we conduct many surveys and focus groups to be able to provide the best services and products. So it is only through asking people that you find out what they need.
In terms of UNFCU, we are the twenty-sixth largest credit union based on assets out of a little over 9,000 credit unions in the United States, so we are quite large in the credit union industry, but relatively small in the financial industry if we compare ourselves to the major banks. I think that what makes us different from banks is that we are very personal and for this reason, along with our financial soundness and community outreach, have won several industry awards. We are very focused on services; you are not an account number, but a person; and if you move around the world, you do not need to close your account with us.
Q: What can you offer to somebody living in Switzerland?
A: In terms of products, we offer pretty much the same products as a commercial bank: savings accounts; checking accounts; consumer loans; credit cards; on-line services, etc.
Q: For somebody living in Switzerland, would you offer a loan to buy a secondary residence in the United States and vice versa? In other words, would you offer a loan to a UN staff member to buy property overseas?
A: It depends on the need. We do not provide business loans, but if this is a personal mortgage, we do lend money for this kind of purpose.
Q: What is the difference between the UNFCU and a regular bank?
A: We are a not-for-profit institution. The profits go to the institution and are invested in the institution by offering lower rates on loans, higher rates on savings. Already in 1997, we were offering web banking to our members. WebChat is another service we offer to our members, who can go on the Internet and actually speak directly to a UNFCU Member Service Representative. So, instead of picking up a telephone, you can actually chat directly with a representative on screen and save telephone charges.
Q: How many clients do you serve?
A: We serve more than 69,000 members around the world. Approximately 50 per cent lives outside the United States. Thus, we have definitely grown very quickly on the international front because we are innovative, understand the needs of the UN community and help members stay connected to their financial lives no matter where they are located.
Q: I presume you have a strategy for future development?
A: Yes, we do. I think we have to go back to our motto: “Serving the People Who Serve the World.” Our tag line defines our vision and global mission. We have members in about 210 countries and territories around the world. You definitely have to provide them with access. We also conduct missions or road shows at numerous duty stations to give presentations and hold office hours.
Q: You have a special programme with BMW. Is this valid only in the US or elsewhere? And if that’s the case, how can people in Geneva benefit from it?
A: Since the partnership was initiated last June, we were able to provide subsidized rates to our members compared to the rates that you would get if you went directly to BMW. So this offer is available to any member anywhere.
Since 1995, we have also partnered with GlobalPhone Corporation, where through GlobalPhone we offer a UNFCU International Calling Card. It is really all about understanding the lifestyle of the UN staff, knowing that they travel a lot. With the UNFCU International Calling Card one can make phone calls in about 150 different countries. The card is actually linked to either your UNFCU VISA‚ Credit Card or UNFCU ChequeMate Debit Card‘, so any expenditure that you accumulate during the month is charged to your debit card at the end of the month. We have over 4,000 members who are, in fact, using this card.
Q: What are the plans for Geneva?
A: We would like to expand the office in Geneva and are exploring the possibility.