While the USF Federal Credit Union has stressed online banking, the lobby at the New Tampa branch on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. has been made safer for those who need an in-bank experience. (Photos: Charmaine George)

Like all businesses, the USF Federal Credit Union (FCU) has been forced to adapt and change throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, while many businesses have struggled, the USF FCU has continued to thrive.

The credit union’s New Tampa branch, which opened in the fall of 2018, is located at the northwest corner of Bruce B. Downs (BBD) Blvd. and Imperial Oak Blvd., in the Trout Creek area of New Tampa, just south of County Line Rd. (across from Burger King).

While the New Tampa location’s lobby shut down in March, its drive-through window has remained open throughout the pandemic.

Now, several months into the crisis, USF FCU’s main branch on the Tampa campus of the University of South Florida has reopened for regular business hours, while the New Tampa lobby is open by appointment only. 

A History Of Helping

From humble beginnings more than six decades ago, when it was founded in 1959 with just 16 members and total assets of $505, the USF FCU has grown to more than 60,000 members and $800 million in assets.

While it originally served only USF faculty and staff, today, current USF students and alumni are eligible to be members, along with employees of more than 40 affiliated companies that have business partnerships with USF. That list includes Tampa General Hospital, Moffitt Cancer Center, Darden Restaurants (the parent company to Bahama Breeze, Olive Garden, etc.) and more than 40 other companies, listed at USFFCU.com/eligibility.

The USF FCU offers personal banking services — from checking and savings accounts, to money market accounts and CDs (certificates of deposit), auto loans, home loans, personal loans and more. The credit union also offers business banking.

The difference between USF FCU and a typical bank, explains brand and promotions manager Bill Steiger, is the credit union’s focus on serving its members.

Online Banking

One way the USF FCU has kept both members and employees safe during the pandemic has been by education members about how to bank without leaving their homes.

Steiger says a new online banking platform was rolled out about 18 months ago. As of January 2020, about 58 percent of members who had a checking account with the credit union were using it.

That changed during quarantine and safer-at-home orders.

“We made tutorial videos to show people how to deposit a check with their phones,” Steiger says. “We did a promotional campaign and educated people on how to use digital banking, and saw success in getting people on board and using it.”

He says now, 97 percent of members who have a checking account use online banking to make deposits through their phones or to complete other transactions. 

“That has helped us to be able to continue to serve our members,” Steiger explains.

USF FCU also served front-line workers in the midst of the pandemic.

Between April 9 and May 5, USF FCU provided catered meals for a total of 950 front-line workers at Tampa General Hospital, AdventHealth Tampa and AdventHealth Covid-19 testing sites, plus other hospitals in the Tampa Bay area and the USF Police Department.

“It was our way of giving back,” Steiger says.

The credit union also served its members in the most flexible way possible.

Knowing that some members were furloughed or laid off from their jobs, USF FCU made hardship loans available with very low interest rates. Members also were offered a “skip-a-pay” option, which doesn’t reduce the amount owed, but extends the length of the loan. 

“That gives our members the ability to not have a car payment one month, for example,” says Steiger, “which is important if you’re furloughed and not getting a paycheck.”

Steiger adds that USF FCU also has been busy with home and auto refinance loans, which allow members to lower their monthly payments and save money during this time of great need.

PPP Loans, Too

Knowing that businesses were going to need assistance to navigate through the pandemic, USF FCU also made it a priority to help its business customers during these most difficult of times.

“We were one of the first credit unions in the area to offer Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans through the federal government’s Small Business Association,” Steiger says, “allowing us to manage the loans to small businesses and single-owner businesses.”

He says the credit union has provided 486 PPP loans — totaling $18 million — which are fully forgivable by the federal government, if all conditions are met.

Kelly Stuart Williams, owner of Pegasos Public Relations, has been a member of the USF FCU since 1990.

She says she had never previously considered using the credit union for her business banking needs until she received an email from USF FCU that shifted her thinking.

“They were very proactive in letting all their members know they were staying on top of the PPP loan program,” says Williams, who realized she wasn’t hearing that from any other bank. 

She says she reached out and opened a business account, and was able to be one of the first to fill out an early PPP application.

Unfortunately, like a lot of small businesses in our area, Williams’ initial PPP loan application was rejected. But, the credit union representative told her not to worry. They would help her get positioned for the second wave of loans.

“It was so different,” Williams says. “The other banks (she looked into) have a policy that if you’re not already a business banking customer, they’re not doing your banking loan.”

The second time around, Williams did receive a PPP loan from USF FCU, and she says she couldn’t be happier.

Now that she has qualified for and received her PPP funds, Williams is counting on USF FCU to keep her informed regarding the forms and processes to have the loan forgiven. 

“Sure enough,” she says, “they are way out front from anyone else I’m hearing from.” 

Steiger says that’s the goal.

“We were pleased to be able to offer that and really help those people keep their businesses going and their employees employed,” he says.

Sterling Award Winner

While serving its customers well may sound like a matter of opinion, there is at least one objective indicator that measures USF FCU’s effectiveness in its business practices. 

In June, the USF Federal Credit Union was honored with the Governor’s Sterling Award. 

This exclusive award goes to companies in Florida that are “high performing, role-model organizations, both private and public, who demonstrate superior management approaches and role model results.”

Fewer than 100 organizations in Florida have earned the award since the Florida Sterling Council was created by the state legislature in 1992.

USF FCU is only the second credit union to ever win the coveted honor.

Steiger says that USF FCU began working to put these best practices in place more than four years ago.

“Our organization was getting larger, so we wanted to be sure that our processes were constantly improving,” he explains. “The Sterling process is a very detailed and rigorous set of activities to show continuous improvement and performance excellence.”

This is the first year that USF FCU applied to have examiners evaluate their business, and Steiger says it was “truly a tremendous honor” to receive the Governor’s Sterling Award during this first attempt.

The New Tampa branch of the USF Federal Credit Union is located at 20610 BBD Blvd. The lobby is currently open by appointment only. The drive-through windows open at 8 a.m. weekdays, closing Mon.-Thurs. at 5 p.m., and at 6 p.m. on Friday. It also is open 9 a.m.–1 p.m. on Saturday. For more information, visit USFFCU.org or call (813) 569-2000.

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