The Saratoga Sun -

A difference in dollars

Philosophy differs for Carbon County's only member-owned financial institution


November 21, 2018

Photo courtesy Jeanne Stapelton

Jeanne Stapleton, Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union vice president and branch manager.

"The biggest difference between a bank and a credit union is we are member owned," Jeanne Stapleton, vice president branch manager for Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union said. She has been at this branch in Carbon County for four years, but has been working for credit unions for years.

As Stapleton said, credit unions differ from banks and other financial institutions in that those who have accounts in the credit union are members and owners. The members elect their board of directors in a one person, one vote system regardless of amount invested.

Most credit unions see themselves as different from mainstream banks with a mission to be community oriented and serve people, not profit, Stapleton said. "We try to use all of our money to turn it back into savings for members or lower loan rates, which typically we are lower in loan rates and higher in deposit rates, and we try to put the money back to work for our members whether it is rates or opening new branches."

She said the services of banks and credit unions are almost the same, but often use a different terminology. Typical services include share accounts (savings accounts), share draft accounts (checking accounts), credit cards, share term certificates (certificates of deposit), and online banking.

"Most of our products and services are very similar to banks," Stapleton said. "What sets us apart here in Meridian is our service. It is stellar because it is a number one top priority for us."

She said Meridian Trust is always putting out surveys to find out members' satisfaction and what needs to be improved.

"The service and the rates we can offer is why members come to Meridian Trust here in Carbon County," Stapleton said.

She is well acquainted with both banks and credit unions

"I have been in the financial industry 26 years," Stapleton said. "I started off as a teller in a bank in Cheyenne and from there I went to the accounting department in a bank."

When Stapleton went to work in the world of credit unions, she started as a teller again. From there she went to the call center, where she eventually was made a call center manager, then went into loans which led to her being a loan manager, a project manager and a branch manager.

Normally, only a member of a credit union may deposit or borrow money. It is not always easy to become a member of a credit union. In the case of Meridian Trust, any resident of Carbon County can be a member.

"We are not open to the public like a bank is, you have to qualify for membership," Stapleton said. "Anybody from this county will be accepted at this branch, because Carbon County is underserved by credit unions."

For Carbon County residents, this automatically gives them a chance to consider another option when looking at monetary needs offered by financial institutions.

"This branch does have a little over 4,000 members," Stapleton said. "Sure, because our branch is based in Rawlins, the majority of members do live in this town, but we have members from all over the county; Bairoil, Saratoga, Hanna all have residents that are members."

Stapleton said Meridian Trust has helped many members with real estate in the small towns because the institution is community oriented having its members coming from all over Carbon County.

"We have many ways we can service accounts from members that don't live in Rawlins," Stapleton said. "We have people that come from a place like Saratoga, Encampment or Hanna that can't get to Rawlins to close the loan in person, so we have docu-sign, that is an electronic document that they sign electronically, and the loan can be completed in minutes."

She said because some members might be far away from the branch, Meridian Trust offers several ways to help members get their economic business completed.

Technology has helped.

"We used to have a machine that would encode the amount on checks and then at the end of the day, we would collect all the checks and courier them to Denver," Stapleton remembered back to her early days in banking. "So there was a huge delay in checks clearing, but now we have an electronic machine that takes images of the check and it is submitted to the Federal Reserve just like that."

This why checks clear in a couple days instead of seven.

Loan decisions are made in less than a half hour whereas before it would take days.

"We can pull up the relevant information in minutes; look at the information and then approve them or deny them and if they are approved, get them funded in a day," Stapleton said. "If all goes well, we can get a loan done in a half hour."

Credit unions and banks in most jurisdictions are legally required to maintain a reserve requirement of assets to liabilities. If a credit union or a bank is unable to maintain positive cash flow and is forced to declare insolvency, its assets are distributed to creditors, including depositors, in order of seniority according to bankruptcy law.

After the financial crisis of 2007-2008 there was a large increase in the number of bank failures but not in the number of credit union failures, and in 2017 all depositors at failed credit unions were fully covered by deposit insurance.

Meridian Trust may be the only credit union in Carbon County, but Stapleton makes clear the branch will do everything to make Carbon County residents welcome in helping them with their financial needs.


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