Trexlertown-based First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union has announced that it has plans to merge with Bellco Federal Credit Union in Wyomissing.
First Commonwealth serves members throughout the Lehigh Valley, Bellco has locations throughout Central Pennsylvania.
The two credit unions have agreed to the merger pending the approval of the National Credit Union and Bellco’s Membership.
The credit unions, when merged, will do business as First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, and will have combined assets of more than $1.3 billion and over 92,000 members across 14 branch locations.
“As a member-owned community financial cooperative, our members are our top priority. By joining forces with First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, our members will have access to additional products and services, and a growing network of financial centers and ATMs/ITMs across the Lehigh Valley, Warren County, New Jersey and Berks County,” said Tom Gosling, Bellco Federal Credit Union’s president and CEO. “Bellco’s community impact will be amplified through First Commonwealth’s ‘We Thrive Foundation’, Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, and volunteerism.”
It’s expected that, with approval, the merger will be complete in the first half of 2024.
First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union is working to make itself more inclusive.
The Trexlertown-based credit union said it will now accept the Cédula de Identidad y Electoral card (the Dominican national identity card) as a form of acceptable identification to open new member accounts.
The move makes First Commonwealth the first credit union in the Lehigh Valley to accept both the Matrícula Consularand the Cédula cards. The aim is to make banking more accessible for the underserved and underbanked members of our communities.
The Cédula card is a photo identification card issued to all Dominican citizens and legal United States residents. It contains an 11-digit number that uniquely identifies the holder on a national level.
The Matrícula Consular, which First Commonwealth has accepted since 2021, is a photo identification card that is issued by the Mexican government to Mexican citizens who reside outside of Mexico as a valid proof of identification,
Both forms of ID are now accepted at all 12 First Commonwealth locations throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley and Warren County, New Jersey, as well as for establishing membership through its digital banking platform.
These alternate forms of identification allow Mexican and Dominican immigrants to take advantage of asset-building opportunities that are otherwise not accessible to them.
Without the required identification, it is nearly impossible for these individuals to open a bank account, establish credit, build their savings, or obtain a loan.
“Our credit union’s footprint encompasses many individuals within this population. By First Commonwealth accepting these cards, we are not only providing these citizens with access to essential financial services, but we are empowering them on their pursuit of financial happiness, as this opens the door for them to obtain stable housing, reliable transportation, and in many cases, moving funds to relatives living in their native country,” said James Gagliano, chief experience officer for First Commonwealth.
For many years community activists have been calling downtown Allentown a banking desert, but that is rapidly changing.
With a combination of economic revitalization in the city center and a push through the Bank On Allentown program to bring financial access and literacy to the city, financial institutions are returning to the downtown.
While ESSA Bank & Trust has had a branch in downtown Allentown since 2018, more recently two of the Lehigh Valley’s credit unions have opened branches in the downtown.
People First Federal Credit Union opened its new headquarters and solutions center at 26 N. 6th St. in May, joining First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, which opened a location at 840 W. Hamilton St. In February of last year.
“Allentown had been neglected for so long,” said Howard Meller, president of People First.
He said that he has been with the credit union for two years and opening a branch in the downtown became one of his top priorities when he took over his post.
“I thought it was really important to be downtown,” he said.
People First had been headquartered on the city’s south side. The credit union was founded as the credit union for Mack Trucks and the location was close to the manufacturing facilities there. But the credit union expanded its services to all community members many years ago.
He said relocating to the downtown just made sense because it gave a greater number of people access to the credit union’s services with the large number of people living and working downtown.
Donna LoStocco, president and CEO of First Commonwealth, said her credit union was also motivated by the growing number of residents in the downtown, who she said needed easier access to banking services.
“We have our largest branch at 450 Union Blvd. It was extremely busy all the time, so we were looking for a second location to ease that,” she said.
With all of the economic development activity and population growth in the downtown, the Hamilton Street spot seemed ideal.
But, like People First, her credit union’s involvement in the Bank On program motivated the move.
She said part of the mission of a credit union is to serve the needs of the members, and residents of the downtown have a significant need for banking services.
LoStocco noted that nationally 5.4% of U.S. residents are currently unbanked, meaning they have no savings or checking accounts at all.
In Allentown, 15.9% of the population is unbanked.
She said studies have shown that it can cost families up to $40,000 over a lifetime because of the excessive fees charged by many alternative financial service companies like check cashers or payday lenders.
With these same people also being low income, LoStocco said the credit unions are committed to helping them save money and improve their finances and credit through outreach and education.
She gave the example of one client, who moved to Allentown from another country and had no credit whatsoever.
After working with First Commonwealth’s financial advisors, that individual now has a credit score of 750.
Meller said to help those residents who may be new to the country, People First has bilingual staff at the downtown location, so they can better help those who don’t speak English as their first language.
Other banking institutions are also keeping their eye on Allentown.
Bucks County based Penn Community Bank is opening its first branch and business center in the Lehigh Valley market in Allentown later this year.
While the branch will be located outside of the downtown at 3090 Tilghman Street, president and CEO Jeane Vidoni said the move is part of the bank’s interest in the downtown.
“There is a concerted effort in serving all levels of socio-economic communities,” Vidoni said. “All banks are looking to serve these markets in a meaningful way.”
She said that while many banks are eliminating branches, mostly because of redundancy from mergers, the Lehigh Valley is a good region for her bank to grow.
“The Lehigh Valley represents a market that still appreciates local banking,” she said, and she believes Allentown is a great place to start.
First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union is now offering special financing and enhanced business solutions for small business owners.
Through its partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA), First Commonwealth FCU can now administer commercial loan options through the SBA 7(a) and SBA 504 programs, the credit union said in a press release.
As the SBA’s most versatile loan program, the 7(a) offers financial assistance of up to $5 million for small businesses with special requirements including: short and long-term working capital; refinancing of current business debt; purchasing furniture, fixtures, equipment or inventory; construction of new building or renovation of existing building; establishing a new business; or assisting in the acquisition, operation or expansion of an existing business.
The 504-loan program provides long-term, fixed-rate financing of up to $5.5 million for up to 25 years, and is an affordable lending option that can put owner-occupied commercial real estate and other fixed-asset purchases within reach.
Eligible uses include:
Purchasing owner-occupied commercial real-estate such as an office, manufacturing facility, mixed-use property, etc.
Purchasing land and constructing a business location
Renovations or improvements to new or existing facilities
Purchasing heavy machinery or equipment.
First Commonwealths SBA program will be managed by Ray Porambo, vice president SBA relationship manager.
Porambo brings extensive experience in originating and overseeing small business loan programs to the First Commonwealth Business Solutions team, the release said. He has a strong background working with the U.S. Small Business Administration, proven success in guiding entrepreneurs and offering small business owners with personalized business solutions.
First Commonwealth first launched its Business First by First Commonwealth FCU program in 2021.
“Your business is our business, and it is our mission to empower our business owners to achieve their goals,” said Terry Grier, chief lending officer. “Through our Business First program and partnership with the SBA, we offer a powerful combination for business owners by providing a trusted partner to help guide and provide comprehensive solutions to grow their business.”
Lehigh Valley-based First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union has acquired Baker Federal Credit Union, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.
Baker FCU will now be known as “Baker Federal Credit Union, a division of First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union” until August 1, when it will fully transition to First Commonwealth Credit Union, the company said.
First Commonwealth has assumed the assets, share deposits and liabilities of Baker FCU, and has absorbed all the select employee groups previously served by Baker.
The merger will net First Commonwealth combined assets of more than $1 billion, serving a field of membership consisting of more than 74,000+ members and 1,800+ employer partners, the credit union said.
This merger provides First Commonwealth’s first New Jersey financial center, and its 12th retail location, with the conversion of the Phillipsburg Financial Center later this year.
Donna LoStocco, president & CEO of First Commonwealth FCU, will lead the merged organizations. LoStocco has led First Commonwealth for the last six years, striving to bring financial services and financial education to all individuals, families and businesses within the communities served by First Commonwealth, the credit union said.
Under her leadership, First Commonwealth recently surpassed $1 billion in assets, has continued to grow its products, services, digital capabilities, community impact and physical footprint, according to a company statement.
Additionally, First Commonwealth was a founding partner in the Bank On Allentown Coalition – one of four coalitions in Pennsylvania and one of 85 across the country – which works to ensure that everyone has access to safe-and affordable bank and credit union accounts.
“We are honored and excited to welcome Baker members and employees to our First Commonwealth family, and for the opportunity to serve consumers and businesses within Warren County,” LoStocco said.
“Through this partnership, we will offer consumer and business members in New Jersey an enhanced and personalized banking experience by bringing together best practices of both credit unions, including optimizing, and expanding member convenience through the latest in digital banking, contact center, financial center, and ITM technology, as well as diversification of consumer and business product and service offerings” she said.
Baker FCU and First Commonwealth FCU announced their intent to merge at the end of 2021, which was approved by the National Credit Union Association NCUA in November and ratified by member vote at a special meeting held on Feb. 7.
Two Allentown collection agencies are partnering with First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union of Trexlertown to offer credit counseling services to people and businesses that find themselves owing money.
Katie Keich, COO of Statewide Tax Recovery and Central Credit Audit, said that the idea is to give debtors the help they need to pay their bills.
“If you are a debtor, business or consumer, First Commonwealth is offering to let you join for free and receive credit counseling to help you with your finances,” she said.
She said she believes offering people in debt help is the right way to help them get back on track.
“I got into this collections space because I genuinely believe people want to pay their bills, but sometimes they just get into a situation where they can’t,” she said.
As a member of FCFCU, individuals have access to a dedicated personal team member who will review the individual’s circumstances and financial situation. They will also be eligible for credit counseling and budgeting resources. Debtors and clients can also see what financial products may be available to them.
“First Commonwealth FCU is honored to partner with CCA and STR to provide an additional resource to those navigating through financial wellness challenges,” said James Gagliano, chief engagement officer at First Commonwealth. “These are challenges shared by many American Consumers seeking needed guidance and long-term solutions. Our certified counselors and credit union resources are at the ready to assist.”
The credit union services will be made available both virtually and in person, to give those seeking help more options.
The offer is available to any individual or business in the Lehigh Valley and into parts of New Jersey. The collections agencies will be sending out a letter to those who may need the help, so that they know th e service is available.
First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union of Trexlertown has announced the appointment of Terry Grier as chief lending officer.
As a member of the credit union’s executive leadership team, Grier will provide the strategic direction and leadership of consumer lending, business solutions, loan operations and debt resolution.
Grier joined the First Commonwealth family in October, working very closely with outgoing chief lending officer Kevin Brown.
Grier has been instrumental in leading enterprise initiatives, process improvements, optimization and enhancing First Commonwealth’s portfolio of lending products and services. He has focused on building comprehensive business solutions and positioning First Commonwealth as a trusted financial partner for small businesses throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley.
“Terry brings vast skills and expertise to this role, given his impressive background, leadership experience, financial expertise and proven success in commercial and business lending,” said Donna LoStocco, president and CEO of First Commonwealth. “He has demonstrated his ability to lead a growing financial services organization as chief lending officer as we finished 2021 with very strong results – including a milestone of achieving $1 billion in assets – and will be instrumental in driving our strategy of making our lending functions more dynamic and growing our specialty small and mid-size business solutions.”
Grier brings more than 25 years of leadership and 18 years within the financial services industry to First Commonwealth. He holds a BA and MBA with a concentration in Executive Management from Baldwin-Wallace University in Ohio.
Tricia C. Szurgot, executive vice president and COO of First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union in Trexlertown is leaving her post, and the state to take on an exciting new role in Maryland.
Szurgot will become the first ever female president of Securityplus Federal Credit Union in Baltimore.
“We are excited to have Tricia take on the role of CEO, after a unanimous vote by our board of directors. She is the right person to lead us into the future.” said Carolyn A. Brooks, chairperson of the credit union. “As the first woman to hold this top leadership role at Securityplus FCU, Tricia has the perfect combination of experience, leadership, credentials, integrity, passion and vision. She has spent her 30+ year career, including 15+ years in senior executive roles in the credit union industry, re-imagining business potential to help organizations preserve, protect and build future-focused and scalable growth strategies, business models and cultures. She is a proven, engaging and highly respected leader in and out of the credit union industry and we look forward to her bringing her vision for Securityplus FCU to life.”
During her more than five years with First Commonwealth FCU, the credit union said Szurgot was the driving force behind the organization’s strategic business, brand and cultural transformation, nearly doubling their asset size to more than $1 billion, implementing new mission, vision and core values.
She worked towards building and opening seven new branches and a new 81,000-square-foot corporate headquarters with income-generating tenant spaces.
She founded its award-winning Corporate Social Responsibility, Financial Wellness & Empowerment, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, WE Thrive Foundation and BankOn/Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) initiatives and, most recently, developing and leading its non-organic growth strategy.
She was also recognized in 2018 as a Lehigh Valley Business Woman of Influence.
Baker Federal Credit Union of Phillipsburg, New Jersey has announced its intent to merge with First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union of Trexlertown.
The merged credit unions will do business as First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, with combined total assets of more than $1 Billion.
“The Baker Federal Credit Union board of directors was both passionate and insistent that a merger be good for all stakeholders – members, employees and the communities we serve. It became clear when I reached out to First Commonwealth, and through our due diligence process, that this merger was exactly what we were looking for and would indeed benefit everyone. We are thrilled to become part of the First Commonwealth family. By joining forces, we will be able to offer products, services, and conveniences that we could not offer on our own while continuing to serve the Phillipsburg and Warren County, New Jersey
communities.” said Sue Rodriguez, president and CEO of Baker Federal Credit Union.
This merger will bring First Commonwealth’s first New Jersey financial center, and its 12th retail location, with the opening of the Phillipsburg Financial Center in 2022.
The merger is pending approval from Baker Federal Credit Union members in a special meeting Feb. 7.
The U.S. Small Business Administration has made changes to its COVID Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program that a local banking executive said many businesses will find advantageous.
Recently, the SBA announced that it was enhancing the program by, among other things, raising the limit that could be borrowed from $500,000 to $2 million dollars.
Kevin Brown, chief loan officer at First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union, said for many businesses the extra help is needed.
“It will certainly help some of the businesses that have had lower revenues that $500,000 won’t cover,” he said.
There are many changes aimed at helping small to medium-sized businesses, particularly those with under 500 employees.
“Our mission-driven SBA team has been working around the clock to make the loan review process as user-friendly as possible to ensure every entrepreneur who needs help can get the capital they need to reopen, recover and rebuild,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman.
Other changes include increasing the period of time where a business doesn’t have to repay the loan.
Currently, the loans, which are 30-year loans at 3.75% interest, have 18 months of deferred payments.
Under the changes, businesses have two years before they need to start repaying the loan, which will help those businesses get the breathing room they may need as they try to recover from the pandemic’s impact.
Brown said probably the biggest advantage to the changes in the EIDL program is that it expands the ways the loan money can be used.
“We have one client member who used the loan to put a down payment on a building,” he said.
Noting thatt EIDL is a direct SBA loan and does not go through banks and credit unions like the Paycheck Protection Program Loans, he said others he has talked to have used the funds to pay down their debt from other higher interest loans.
“Especially for companies with a larger number of employees, this could really be a benefit. We’ve seen a lot of our business members take advantage of EIDL,” Brown said.
Unlike the PPP loans, Brown noted that the EIDL loans are not forgiven and do need to be repaid over 28 years once the two-year deferment is up.
Part of the EIDL program however, does provide for grant money for businesses in low-income areas.
Targeted Advance and Supplemental Advance grants are available totaling up to $15,000. Those do not need to be repaid.
To ensure that Main Street businesses have additional time to access EIDL funds, the SBA has implemented a 30-day exclusivity window for approving and disbursing funds for loans of $500,000 or less, that are part of the original allocation.
The enhanced EIDL would then take effect starting in early October.
The money certainly seems to be needed.
Guzman noted that according to a recent Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses survey, 44 percent of small business owners report having less than three months of cash reserves and only 31 percent reporting confidence in gaining access to funding.
The goal of the enhancements to the COVID EIDL program is to allow more businesses greater and more flexible support from the over $150 billion in available COVID EIDL funds.
“It sounds like they have unspent money and now they’re putting it to work,” Brown said.
Businesses that want to learn more about the EIDL program can go to www.sba.gov/eidl for more information.
First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union started in 1959 serving the manufacturing segment of AT&T, which was then known as Western Electric. Donna LoStocco joined the credit union in 2016 as president and CEO with a mission to grow membership.
LVB: There has been a great deal of activity at First Commonwealth, you recently opened a new headquarters in Lower Macungie Township. Tell me about that move.
LoStocco: We had two buildings, one in Allentown and one in Bethlehem. They were both pretty old and hadn’t been very well maintained over the years. When we looked at the cost…we found out it was more cost effective and made more sense to build, especially in a part of the Lehigh Valley that is growing so dramatically.
We were thinking of the staffing growth in the future. We have 81,000 square feet and we’re not using that all right away. So, we’ve leased out the first floor and we’ve taken over the second and third floors of the building.
We have lots of sustainable features in the building. There’s lots of natural light being let in. (There are also many employee wellness features and initiatives including water bottle filling stations, UV light cleaning the HVAC system and a workout center for employees.)
LVB: You’ve also opened an urban branch in Allentown. Tell me about that.
LoStocco: We didn’t really have an Allentown presence. Even our Union Boulevard location wasn’t downtown. We already have a lot of members that were downtown and while the Union Boulevard location did have public transportation, we were interested in being walkable so those communities could easily get to us.
Having accessible branches is important because the Lehigh Valley is a pretty face to face place. I spent much of my career in New Jersey and it wasn’t so much so. Getting to know the people you’re working with is extremely important here.
In fact, when I arrived here in 2016 the board told me they felt we needed to have more physical locations and in the last four years we’ve grown from six branches to 11.
We are also involved in the Bank On Allentown movement – in fact I believe were the first to sign up — so we were very happy to add a physical location to Allentown
LVB: First Commonwealth has also made some leadership changes and now has women as 50% of its leadership? Was that planned?
LoStocco: When I arrived at the credit union I had an all-male report staff and an all-male board. It was important to me and to the board to have a more diverse staff.
We were looking for as much diversity we could find, it didn’t have to be female. All things being equal we tried to find a more diverse [management team] and many of them happened to be women.
LVB: What role do you think a diverse management team has in creating a better institution?
LoStocco: First and foremost we get diversity of thought. You can say that about any diversity but men and women do think differently. They make different decisions. Of course, I’m making a lot of generalizations, but it’s a totally different atmosphere. People want to have a work life balance.
The one thing that might be different is the lactation rooms. With all male management it might have been a last thought instead of a first thought.
We also have a high percentage of bilingual workforce which will help us better serve a diverse community. We serve a diverse community and our employees should reflect that.
LVB: What’s next for the credit union?
LoStocco: Up through 2016, the credit union had done a great job surviving the recession and keeping its financials strong. But, it did very little in terms of growth. I was charged with growth. We upgraded our online banking platform and grew our number of financial centers from six to 11 in four years when not much had been done in the decade before.
We’re going to be looking to support the communities and to increase efficiency. We’ve got all this great software that we’ve only just started to tap into to serve our members. When our members do more with us we’re able to give back to our members.
We’re also very focused on the Bank On movement and to bringing accessibility to banking — to bring affordable, accessible banking to everyone.
First Commonwealth Federal Credit Union took the opportunity of International Women’s Day to announce that it has named Karla Trumbauer to the post of chief information and technology officer, making 50% of the credit union’s executive roles held by women.
“I’m thrilled to have our leadership ‘dream team’ – with half of our executive roles filled by proven, exceptional women leaders,” said Donna LoStocco, president and CEO of First Commonwealth. “As we celebrate Women’s History Month and the accomplishments of women throughout history, it’s special to recognize this achievement of one of our own exceptional women leaders. We now have the right people, with the right experience and mindset, in the right roles to accelerate our strategic growth, transformation and alignment to the future.”
Trumbauer will provide strategic direction and leadership for First Commonwealth’s information and technology strategy, enterprise project and portfolio management, business applications, product management, foundational technology series, data analytics and facilities.
Trumbauer joined the credit union in early 2018 as vice president of information technology and has worked on First Commonwealth’s accelerated technology and data transformation. She has more than 20 years of experience in technology, information and project management.
“Karla is exactly the right person for this key role to help us continue to be agile and adaptable in meeting our members when, where, and how they need us with more valuable products, services, capabilities, and personalized experiences than ever before. She has proven to be an exceptional leader and pivotal to our success,” said LosStocco. “As chief information and technology officer, she brings the perfect mix of experience, leadership style, passion for people, innovation, community and alignment with our mission, vision and values.”
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