In a Nutshell: 4Front Credit Union ensures it stays up to date with its digital and physical presence. While bolstering its online offerings, the credit union is expanding to even more branches through the end of the year. 4Front’s philosophy of people helping people means its credit card, loan, and checking account services are competitive and transparent. The credit union also supports its members’ financial wellness with free educational resources online and at events.
Seven years ago, 4Front Credit Union made a decision that would greatly impact its trajectory. 2015 was the year the credit union embraced digital and online services for its members. That first investment into accessible services made sure the credit union was ready for the future.
Five years later, the Covid pandemic hit, and our lives would never be the same. Millions of Americans lost their jobs and did not know how they were going to pay their bills. When businesses, restaurants, and financial institutions all closed down, 4Front Credit Union was ready to answer the call.
4Front’s commitment to digital options and physical branches in Michigan meant members had access to their finances 24/7. The credit union kept its physical locations open to help people get through the pandemic, and its website helped people find options while social distancing.
Prospective members only need to live, work, worship, or attend school in the state of Michigan, or be an immediate family member of an existing member of the credit union. A future member also needs to be a legal U.S. resident, 18 years of age or older, have a Social Security number and government-issued ID.
4Front still follows the principles that helped its members stay afloat during the pandemic, further bolstering its options online and inside its branches. Its competitive interest rates on loans and credit cards, attractive rewards programs, and access to wealth management courses is making the credit union’s member base grow.
“People are telling friends and family about us,” 4Front Credit Union CEO Andy Kempf said. “That’s really helped us. Membership and asset growth are both exceeding peers. We think we have a model that works, and we’re going to continue with that model with an understanding that it is exceedingly difficult to take any services away, and we’re okay with that.”
Designing Products to Better Serve Member Needs
4Front Credit Union’s financial products are convenient and competitive with big banks. The credit union features two types of credit cards: a secured credit card and a rewards card.
The secured credit card helps members rebuild their credit by freezing an initial deposit from the member’s savings account.The amount frozen in the account becomes a member’s line of credit.
The credit union is in the process of creating a new rewards system for its reward card. The rewards card currently provides a low interest rate and 1% cash back on purchases.
4Front’s checking account is unique in that members receive 4% interest on the balance in the account. To qualify for the boosted rate every month, members only have to deposit $500, log in to online or mobile banking at least once, make 15 or more purchases with the debit card, and be enrolled in eStatements and eNotifications.
The credit union’s Fast 4ward Payday program provides members with their paycheck, retirement, or Social Security check up to two days early.
“As soon as we get it, we’re posting it,” Kempf said. “With online banking, you can see what’s coming and many wonder why they can’t just have the money now. With us, as soon as we get it, we don’t sit on your money at all. We’ll give it to you.”
Members who need extra help paying bills before their next paycheck can take advantage of the QuickCash program. The loan is an alternative to traditional payday loans that charge high interest rates. Members can apply for the loan 24/7 and can even receive instant approval if they meet the qualifications. No credit check is required to apply for the loan. The credit union approves loans based on the member’s relationship with 4Front.
The credit union may not check credit scores as part of the loan-approval process, but it does report repayment of the loan to credit bureaus. Members’ scores go up for on-time payments and is a good way to boost or repair credit scores.
Another program 4Front Credit Union is excited about is Plinqit, which helps members set and achieve savings goals. Members saving toward a vacation, car, or other purchase can set automatic deposits to the Plinqit account, and earn rewards for meeting goals.
“What we’re focused on primarily is giving people the ability to manage their money their way,” Kempf said. “So that’s what we continue to try and do; make life simple.”
Merging Digital Options with Physical Locations
4Front Credit Union has a rich history of serving the people of Michigan. It was originally founded nearly 70 years ago, and after merging with another credit union, it became 4Front in 2015. The credit union started by serving governmental employees and today has grown to include anyone living in Michigan. 4Front has 15 branches spread throughout northern Michigan, with three new branches under construction in southwest Michigan.
The credit union’s approach to banking is helping the branch grow following the Covid-19 pandemic. 4Front said it is growing between 20% and 30% every year since the pandemic began, and should eclipse the $1 billion in assets threshold later this year.
While several banks are solely moving more toward online, 4Front said it is emphasizing on growing both physically and digitally. The credit union has even seen more young people come into branches for face-to-face discussions.
“We believe in branches,” Kempf said. “A lot of people said they’ve been dying since the late 90s. We disagree with that. We believe people will choose where they bank based on a physical location close to where they live or work.”
Members looking to buy a home will receive the confidence they need to receive a good, affordable deal. Mortgage representatives can meet with new home buyers either in person or over video.
4Front Credit Union said this kind of accessibility brings growth, and there are no plans to change that philosophy.
“If you use paper checks, those are going to stick around for a lot of years whether we want them or not,” Kempf said. “We’ll continue offering those, but then also look into supporting cryptocurrencies. So we’ll be at both ends of the spectrum.”
Highlighting Financial Literacy for Students and Adults
One of 4Front Credit Union’s pillars is for financial health and wellness. It wants its members to feel comfortable with the services they are being provided and not lose money. As a credit union, the institution does not seek to make a profit. All revenue goes right back into providing members with better services.
4Front partners with Banzai!, a learning program that offers financial literacy and wellness courses. The partnership works with 30 schools and 100 teachers who teach real-world finance lessons to students. Banzai! also teaches and promotes financial wellness lessons for adults.
The credit union also partners with Savvy Money, a program that helps people take control of their credit score. Members can see exactly what’s affecting their credit score and what they need to do to raise it.
In addition to all of the lessons, lenders with the credit union are CUNA-certified, which means that members can come into a branch to discuss their personal finances and receive help creating a budget.
4Front invests in itself, its programs, and its members to stay at the forefront of technology and financial literacy.
“We invest a lot into bringing products and services to our members,” Kempf said. “We stay very, very competitive with big banks. We say there’s no reason for them to not come to us.”