How can the winner of the Observer-Reporter’s 2018 Best of the Best Award for “Best Credit Union” be a bit of an unknown in the Greater Washington area? That question gets a chuckle out of CHROME Federal Credit Union president and CEO Robert Flanyak.
“People come in and think it’s a restaurant or a club,” Flanyak said in describing the shiny, modern CHROME branch that sits on Racetrack Road across from the entrance to Tanger Outlets. “We didn’t do a very good job when we rebranded four years ago. We didn’t tell the story about a group of mill workers from Washington Steel Corporation in 1971 who decided to start their own financial cooperative because they felt that local banks aren’t really interested in helping working people.”
That cooperative was originally named the Washington Steel Federal Credit Union and then later became Washington Community Federal Credit Union. Along the way, that cooperative expanded from serving steelworks and their families to welcoming members from across the community and from several counties around Southwestern Pennsylvania. The name change to CHROME came a few years ago as an effort to move forward in the high tech world of electronic banking while keeping roots firmly planted in the organization’s history.
Just like it’s name sounds, CHROME’s motto is “banking that shines.” The credit union’s moniker now is a nod to chromium, an element added to make the stainless steel that the credit union’s founders produced at Washington Steel for decades. Along with a name change came a renewed emphasis on member service so that members know they’ll find employees who focus on what Flanyak calls, “conversational banking and not just transactional banking.”
How do you do that in a digital age when manners and member service continue to erode? It’s a dual purpose as CHROME is committed to the latest technological advances in electronic and online banking while also maintaining that one-one-one commitment to member service. Employees are encouraged to commit random acts of kindness and to go out of their way to help members. They’ve held blood drives for the Red Cross, a toy drive for the Salvation Army and a back to school backpack drive for local schoolchildren. CHROME marketing manager Matthew Wilberger says that winning the O-R’s Best of the Best award for “Best Credit Union” last year meant a lot to his co-workers.
“We took that as a really strong indication,” said Wilberger. “It was a really big pat on the back. There’s a lot of merit in having that distinction.”
CHROME was recently hailed in Forbes magazine for their unique employee training techniques and policies. What do they include? Things like empowering employees to be able to help members address issues and solve problems without having to ask upper management. CHROME also celebrates something called “Wow Moments” each morning before the branches open for business. “These are the stories that we share every single day from a different one of the locations in our morning huddle,” explained Wilberger. “This is going above and beyond the course of duty in serving our members... not just holding a door for someone.”
He goes on to share the story of two branch leaders who went out to deliver some banking-related materials to an older member who is a veteran and was unable to make it to the branch in person. “Upon arriving there, they discovered the basement was flooded and he wasn’t physically or financially capable of remedying the situation,” Wilberger said. “These guys went and got a shop vac and pumped out the basement. That’s a Wow Moment and these folks are doing things like that every single day. That’s because of who we hire.”
Flanyak agreed that it’s all about hiring the right people and not just people who have banking experience. “This is the first in-house marketing job I’ve had,” said Wilberger, “and I never thought I’d be able to work with a banking institution and also be creative as well. I find that really awesome and the folks I work with are some of the best.”
Flanyak said the rebranding to CHROME is about modernizing the credit union’s identity and simplifying products for its members. He stressed the word “members,” saying the big difference between a bank and a credit union is purpose. “Their purpose is to make money for their investors,” Flanyak said. “Our purpose is to act in the best interests of our member owners because we don’t have customers. They’re called members because they really are member owners – each one of them gets to vote for our volunteer board of directors, which is made up of community members.”
Wilberger added that there’s another difference between banks and credit unions when it comes to fees. “Banks and many other financial institutions have hundreds of fees associated with their products and services,” he said. “CHROME has less than a dozen total fees on all of our products and services.”
Flanyak is quick to point out that CHROME offers everything a bank does from checking and money market accounts to car and home equity loans as well as electronic check deposit and the ability to open accounts online. But he emphasizes the difference is that CHROME is designed to be an easier banking experience for members. “It’s those kinds of things that make it a special place,” Flanyak said. “Values are important to us as is the way that people feel when they walk out that door, when they hang up the phone or they click off their computer. They know that they’ve got a friend in the business. They know that we have their backs.”
CHROME now has two branches in Washington and a third in Wexford. The original branch on Griffith Avenue sits just steps away from the former Washington Steel site while the newer Racetrack Road branch opened a just a few years ago. Members are welcomed by a bright, shiny, open lobby filled with smiling faces and warm greetings. Members enjoy online banking, access to over 40,000 surcharge-free ATMs across the country and more than 5,000 nationwide branch locations (including over 25 local) where you can access accounts and make transactions just the same as if you were at a CHROME branch location. This spring, CHROME will be rolling out a new checking account that will refund up to $25 of foreign ATM fees that members incur. With this account, most ATMs will in effect be free for members.
CHROME Federal Credit Union branches are located at 440 Racetrack Road and 45 Griffith Avenue, Washington. Both are open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. with the Racetrack Road branch also open Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon. For more information, call 724-228-2030 or visit www.chromefcu.org.