Three weeks ago, the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union announced a new record of $16 million in assets. On Monday afternoon, Arjun Mehta (SFS ’11), CEO of GUAFSCU, sat down with The Hoya to discuss GUASFCU’s new financial highs, new services for GUASFCU customers and giving back to the Georgetown community.
How have the results of the new school year been? Has GUASFCU been popular with the new students?
We’ve grown over 37 percent in the past year, which is a fantastic year, in retrospect. We’ve been very successful among new students this school year, especially during open accounts weekend, the first weekend of the year for new students. We’ve also had a lot of success with our online banking, with the majority of new accounts being formed online. I think that the key aspect of our growth last year, however, has been from alumni retention. We have always tried to set it up so that students have no reason to close their accounts when they graduate.
What opportunities does GUASFCU offer to students that other banks or credit unions do not?
When someone comes to campus, they want a banking organization they can trust. As a whole, students are not commonly perceived as trustful with money, but we’ve made sure that we’re seen as, and actually are, the superior option. I think some of the things that draw people to us are that we know what students need. We put ourselves in the position of our customers, and figure out what services we would want the most. A student wants a lot of ATMs; we set it up so that one in 12 ATMs in the [United States] are surcharge free for GUASFCU members. It’s a fantastic network. We also have a free transfer service designed for students, for people relying on allowances from their parents.
At open accounts week, we have a sheet that shows every single rate we have, and not only how we beat Capital One, but every single bank in the area. We just break it down and say, “If you don’t believe us, that’s fine, look at every single rate.”
It’s Georgetown; when they use a GUASFCU card, they can look at it and see Jack the Bulldog on the side, and can be proud to be a part of Georgetown. When people graduate, they show me their card, and say they want to keep it, because it’s a part of Georgetown.
While you have seen two semesters of unprecedented financial success, your group actually suffered in the time period between 2003 and 2008. What happened in that time period?
To be honest, it’s been the competition. When Chevy Chase, now Capital One, moved to campus, there was a need for us to readjust so as to react to the new competition. I think that while the added competition was originally a setback for our organization, previous boards set us on a track where we could not only compete, but also succeed against our competitors. We lowered our fees across the board, and raised our saving rates. It also drove us to make our focus on the customer our No. 1 priority. That’s not always how it was in the past, but we’ve emphasized it now. Because of that, we’ve grown significantly.
What percentage of current Georgetown students has an account in GUASFCU?
It’s a bit more than half. I think there are two competing influences on this fact. I think banking’s changing around the world. It’s less about the location, more about the services being provided. Therefore, we’ve had to be more competitive to make sure we maintain our share of the Georgetown market, because the convenience factor has to be very high to convince customers to join, or to transfer from other banks. That’s helped us with our alumni, because now when GUASFCU customers go to New York City, they can find a GUASFCU-affiliated bank at nearly every corner.
What innovations do you offer to Georgetown students, and what future innovations do you hope to provide?
We’ve upgraded the two ATMs, and we’re in negotiations for a third one. We’re also improving customer services, making sure we have good coverage for service for both students and alumni. One thing we’re happy to announce is an alumni debit card. Every graduating customer of GUASFCU receives a new debit card that has their class printed on the bottom, which also comes with a higher spending limit. It’s a Georgetown pride thing, it’s something you can carry with you and be proud of.
We have only one branch here in Georgetown. We want to get to a point where no one will ever want to quit their account with us, so we’re trying to come up with ways to keep those students connected to us. One thing we’re beta-testing right now is a program where students can take a photo of a check on their phones, send it to us, and deposit it in their account. It’s had good results, and we’re going to roll it out in the next couple of years.
So being able to apply those concepts and those classes is invaluable. It’s a great experience.
Through what means and organizations do you reinvest money back into the university?
All the revenue we make is reinvested to cut fees, to lower loan rates, and to increase savings rates and other rates, so that members can have the best deal. That’s how we kind of give back to the community, because we’re able to always make our services better for students.
Two organizations that we’re involved in aggressively are the Reimagine Georgetown initiative [an initiative run jointly by The Corp, GUASFCU and THE HOYA]. The Credit Union is the chair this year, and I’m looking forward to leading a lot of fun projects that make Georgetown a better school.
We’ve also created the George Houston Fund, named after George Houston, a former treasurer of the
university, who gave the first [certificate of deposit] to the credit union. He was a great proponent of financial literacy among students. And so we’ve been working with the Office of Student Financial Affairs to do a literacy series every year, to bring in speakers on financial issues. We hope to raise $75,000 in three years to make the fund self-sustaining.