A Conversation With: Candice Richards, regional membership development manager in the Lehigh Valley for PSECU

Candice Richards –

LVB: Tell me about PSECU and the population it serves? 

Richards: PSECU is Pennsylvania’s largest credit union.  We have over 550,000 members, and more than 25,000 of them are located right here in the Lehigh Valley.   

Unlike a bank, we are a member owned financial cooperative. That means everything we do is for the benefit of the membership.  

LVB: How has the credit union grown and evolved over the years? 

Richards: PSECU has a rich history. Our beginnings were humble when 22 state workers pooled just $90 and founded the credit union back in 1934.   

They were living paycheck to paycheck and were determined to find a solution to their struggle against low wages and a high cost of living.  

Banks didn’t want to lend them money, and loan sharks were charging as much as 40% interest. They had little control over their financial lives — until they came together to form a credit union.   

Although we’ve grown to include many more groups than just Pa. state employees, we continue to uphold our founders’ legacy. Then and now, we want to help our members live better, whether that means saving more money, paying down debt, or achieving their family’s goals. 

LVB: Financial education is a big part of your mission. Tell me more about your educational programs. 

Richards: Financial education is something we are very passionate about at PSECU. We believe that knowledge is power, and so the more educated people become about finances, the better choices they will make regarding money management.   

To this end, we have 24 financial education centers across the commonwealth, located on college and university campuses, aimed at accomplishing the goal of equipping students, faculty, and staff with money management skills.   

We provide in-person and virtual workshops for these campus communities on topics such as budgeting, credit, identity theft, and managing debt, to name a few.  

Our reach expands beyond college campuses to the wider community as well by providing regular financial literacy workshops for elementary aged to high school students. In addition, we are proud of the extensive digital resources that are available on our website at psecu.com/learn covering a wide array of money related topics.   

Everyone, not just members, can take advantage of this free resource. 

LVB: What’s next for PSECU. 

Richards: Credit unions are very mindful of being a strong presence in local communities, and PSECU has been and will continue to strive to be an example of that here in the Lehigh Valley.  

We are always exploring new opportunities to introduce our credit union to those who may not know us yet, and to connect with our current members. And, of course, we plan to continue delivering high quality and low-cost financial products and services to help our members achieve more.  

Beyond that, we contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to community programs and non-profit organizations in keeping with the credit union philosophy of ‘people helping people.’ 

Community First Fund officially opens credit union 

Community First Fund officially opened the first branch of its Community First Fund Federal Credit Union in Lancaster. PHOTO/PROVIDED –

Community First Fund, an independent nonprofit community loan fund, hosted an official grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for the first branch of its Community First Fund Federal Credit Union.  

The goal of the credit union at 51 S. Duke St., Lancaster, is “to create financial equity and economic mobility for individuals and families, especially African Americans, Latinos, immigrants and women,” according to a release. “The credit union’s mission is supported through access to consumer financial products and education that improve personal financial stability and provide opportunities to obtain quality, affordable housing.” 

Community First Fund started the credit union because national research shows 27% of U.S. households are unbanked or underbanked, including nearly 50% of African American and 46% of Latino households. In addition, almost 50% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck and cannot come up with $2,000 for a financial emergency.  

Unbanked people are those without a savings or checking account, while underbanked people possess bank accounts but also rely on alternative financial services such as money orders, check cashing stores or pawn shop loans.  

Daniel Betancourt, president and CEO of Community First Fund and the credit union, added, “We’ve been serving Lancaster for 30 years by providing access to credit to entrepreneurs who want to make a positive change in the community. With the credit union, our mission is to provide a pathway to financial stability for families. We’re excited to expand our service in the community and celebrate this milestone.”  

Community First Fund Federal Credit Union was chartered by the National Credit Union Administration in June 2021 and is one of few credit unions to have been established in the last five years.  

To launch the credit union, Community First Fund has received funding from private donors; local foundations such as the Calvin and Janet High Foundation, Lancaster County Community Foundation, the High Foundation and Feree Foundation; and national partners such as Santander Bank and M&T Bank.  

Community First Fund has offices in Philadelphia, Lancaster, Reading, York, Harrisburg and Allentown.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer 

Equal Credit Opportunity Act needed to end credit discrimination

Donna LoStocco

On March 9th, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued an interpretive rule clarifying that the prohibition against sex discrimination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act means that lenders cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

This was welcome news, but it is not enough. Federal legislation is needed to remove any confusion about what is and what is not credit discrimination.

As the President and CEO of First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, I am all too aware of the great importance of loans to help all Americans – especially low and middle income individuals and families – achieve their dreams of home ownership. Most lenders would agree with the basic premise that our industry should not stand for credit discrimination. I’d even suggest that credit discrimination harms our community’s attempts to empower the American dream and achieve a higher level of inclusivity.

Thankfully, a federal solution exists. On February 25th, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill to end legal discrimination against LGBTQ Americans in housing, employment, public accommodation, credit, and jury service. The bill, known as The Equality Act, is now en route to the Senate before it can reach President Biden’s desk for his signature.

Protections from discrimination are necessary for all Americans seeking loans. These protections should be preserved into law. There’s no question these protections are good for financial services sectors. There must be clear and unquestionable guidelines and rules that don’t change from state to state or from city to city to empower the American dream for everyone. Many lenders operate across city or state lines and one set of rules for all of us helps to ensure that our entire industry is prepared to succeed.

Passing the Equality Act through the Senate would send a clear and urgent message to all lenders that credit discrimination is wrong, harmful and not aligned with lending industry goals.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey serves on the Senate Banking Committee and that’s why we look forward to his support of the Equality Act to place this commonsense and fair-minded public policy into effect to protect all Pennsylvanians, and all Americans from the discriminatory practices of a select few. This law will provide credit discrimination protections for 13 million LGBTQ Americans and will also provide protections in employment, housing, jury service and public accommodations.

For many people, nonprofit and member-owned credit unions are the pathway to affordable, accessible and inclusive banking and lending, and ultimately, the American dream. Senator Toomey can help 13 million Americans achieve their dreams – and that’s something we should all be proud of.

Donna LoStocco is President and CEO of First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union


PSECU retiree makes finals for national honor

Margaret Delmonico

A retired executive with PSECU, the credit union of Pennsylvania state employees, is one of four finalists for the nationwide CU Hero of the Year Award from the Credit Union National Association.

Margaret Delmonico, a resident of Mechanicsburg, worked with the credit union for more than 20 years, starting as a member service representative and ending her career as director of public relations, where she oversaw the credit union’s community involvement and outreach.

“I started working for PSECU at a very young age and quickly found my passion in the credit union movement,” Delmonico said in a press release. “Over the past 41 years, the credit union ‘people helping people’ philosophy has granted me great personal and professional fulfillment. Knowing that I could play a small role in assisting our members and communities to succeed and thrive was the main motivation throughout my career and kept me going each day.”

The CU Hero of the Year Award honors credit union leaders who demonstrate a commitment to the longstanding “people helping people” credit union philosophy.

The 2020 award winner will be selected by popular vote, which remains open until March 20.

Lehigh Valley credit union named tops by Forbes Magazine

Forbes Magazine has named First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union of Bethlehem as the No. 1 in-state credit union in Pennsylvania.

First Commonwealth ranked first on the Forbes 2019 Best-In-State Credit Union list. The credit union has eight branches in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

The magazine recognized 182 credit unions, nationwide, out of the more than 5,000 credit unions in the country.

Three Pennsylvania credit unions were included on the 2019 list with American Heritage Federal Credit Union of Philadelphia and PSECU of Harrisburg also being honored.

Forbes said the financial institutions were scored on overall recommendations and satisfaction of customers, as well as five other factors — trust, terms and conditions, branch services, digital services and financial advice.

To celebrate its top ranking, First Commonwealth will be having member appreciation days July 2 at each of its branches.

The branches will be serving cupcakes and popsicles and a team will be interviewing customers about their banking experiences to create a commemorative video.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey credit union groups join forces

The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and the New Jersey Credit Union League have announced a merger of the two organizations.

Membership of both trade groups have voted in favor of the merger, which will become effective Jan. 1.

The new name, tentatively, will be the PA/NJ Credit Union Association.

Michael Wishnow, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association said they will be looking into a rebranding campaign and that will include a new logo for the combined organization and an official name will be finalized.

While the two organizations serve different institutions with different laws in different states, they share a lot of the same needs Wishnow said.

“There’s actually far more in common than there are differences,” he said. “Our economies are similar. Our demographics are similar. We both have a large number of credit unions in our state.”

He said they are also seeing the trend of mergers and acquisitions so both states are seeing fewer but larger credit unions serving a wider range of people.

In fact, Wishnow said, it’s becoming far more common for interstate credit unions to join forces. They are actually the 12th merger between interstate credit union associations in the country.

Wishnow said the primary roles of the two groups are similar, they advocate for credit unions and provide education, networking and business services, and will benefit from each other’s offerings.

“Somethings in Pennsylvania they don’t do in New Jersey and vice-versa,” he said.

Lobbyists will be maintained both in Harrisburg and Trenton as well as Washington, D.C., he said.

There will be no layoffs as a result of the merger and both organizations will maintain their local offices.

First Commonwealth breaks ground on new $20M headquarters

First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union holds a groundbreaking ceremony at its new headquarters in Lower Macungie Township. (Photo submitted) –

First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union has begun construction on a new $20 million headquarters in Lower Macungie Township that is part of the credit union’s growth strategy in the Lehigh Valley.

First Commonwealth, currently based in Hanover Township, Northampton County, broke ground Wednesday on an 81,000-square-foot, thee-story, mixed-use building and an adjacent 5,000-square-foot financial center along Route 222 near the new Trexlertown Movie Tavern theater.

“We looked at our projected growth and we knew we needed to substantially grow our back office operations,” said John Miller, COO of First Commonwealth, the executive overseeing the project.

The development will consolidate employees from offices in Hanover Township, Northampton County and on Union Boulevard in Allentown. About 120 employees will work on the top two stories of the building.

Miller said the first floor will be leased out to retail and office users. The credit union already has one office leased and that will bring another 50 or 60 employees to the building.

There also is room for First Commonwealth to grow, Miller said, as the site was designed to accommodate up to 275 employees.

About eight employees will be hired for the accompanying branch.

Miller said First Commonwealth is expecting to hire more employees as it expands both its bricks-and-mortar locations and its digital presence.

“We have a completely new digital platform that we will be rolling out later this year,” he said.

Miller said one of the reasons the Lower Macungie site was chosen was to help attract those new employees.

There are shops and restaurants nearby as well as a walking trail for employees to enjoy over their lunch breaks. Miller hopes those feature will also attract the best new hires.

“What we really want to do here is attract the workforce of the future,” he said.

First Commonwealth, which has been operating in the Lehigh Valley since 1959, opened four branches in 2017. It’s most recent new location, in Emmaus, had a soft opening on Monday.

When the Trexlertown branch opens in spring 2020 it will be First Commonwealth’s 10th location.

Site work is being managed by Boyle Construction of South Whitehall Township. It was designed by MKSD Architects of South Whitehall Township.

Additional project partners include HB Engineers, Newton Engineering and Jaindl Land Development Co. Construction.

First Commonwealth has 170 employees and $700 million in assets.