717 Helps Its Members Weather 2022 Economy

WARREN, Ohio – Amid nearly three years of financial uncertainty, 717 Credit Union is helping its members and local businesses navigate the economy.

With 67% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, the president and CEO of 717, Gary Soukenik, says it’s tough on people when inflation hits 9%, grocery and gas bills rise, and mortgage payments increase.

“We’re doing what we can to help our members deal with that,” Soukenik says, noting that consumer and employee expectations have changed in the last three years.

Gary Soukenik

The credit union reports a 16% growth in loans it made through August and an annualized loan growth around 27%. But Soukenik says he expects to see things slow as the Federal Reserve battles inflation by hiking interest rates.

Dan Harp, chief lending officer at 717, says car lending especially slowed in August. He believes many consumers anticipated the interest rate hikes and bought vehicles earlier this year.

Eric Lanham, senior vice president of marketing, says on the business services side, business checking has grown 25% in recent years and there are several enhancements coming in online banking. Commercial lending has grown 21%, he says.

“Local businesses appreciate dealing with a locally owned financial institution, who is making decisions right here in their town,” Soukenik says.

One program to help consumers is an introductory rate of 2.99% on a home equity loan for the first 12 months. The rate then adjusts to the original interest rate and remains there for the next nine years, Harp says. The home equity loan rate is available through the end of the year.

In addition, Harp says that starting in October, all members are getting their best rate based on credit scores.

717 works to build or repair its members’ credit scores, so that those living paycheck to paycheck can get better loan rates. It periodically offers a $1,000 loan for 12 months without a credit check, which can help to build credit and offers a better interest rate to those needing quick cash.

Financial education is an important piece of what 717 does, says Lanham. In addition to meeting in-person to help members achieve their financial needs, 717 has provided financial literacy instruction to 30,000 students and offers online learning modules to educate consumers.

While more customers tried technology-driven banking during the pandemic and love the app, Soukenik says sometimes customers need personal attention.

“We know we need to maintain that personal touch,” he says. “We call it high tech, high touch. We want to have that high tech when that’s the most convenient way for them to deal with us … But when they want to talk to somebody, we want to be here for them.”

The credit union now boasts 105,000 members and recently expanded with a branch in downtown Warren, where Soukenik says the company can be involved in the city’s renaissance.

717 Credit Union was named to Forbes’ list of “Best Credit Unions for 2022”  – one of only three of Ohio’s 241 credit unions to receive the recognition. The credit union was also named  the top credit union in Ohio by S&P Global Market Intelligence. And, 717 was named a NorthCoast 99 award winner by the Employers Resource Council for having an exceptional workplace.