Premier protects plastic
Credit Union continues to focus on serving members
By Mark Sherry
Mark Sherry photo
Staff members at the Kiel office of Premier Financial Credit Union are (from left) Nancy Boutchard, Christine Kline, Renee Curtiss, Lisa Barnes and Peggy Goch.

Most people think they will never be a victim of identity theft or have one of their credit cards or personal financial information compromised.

There were probably a lot of people who thought that way until they found themselves among the 110 million people affected by a security breach involving the retailer Target. And a financial officer for Target said recently that these types of breaches are likely to become more commonplace and affect most major retailers at one time or another.

It certainly helps to have credit and/or debit cards which are issued by a financial institution which is doing everything it can to protect its customers—or, in the case of Premier Financial Credit Union, its members.

With financial security measures a hot topic these days, Premier Financial President/Chief Executive Officer Steve Nothem said recently that the member-owned credit union is now using Verified by Visa, a program which adds an extra layer of security to make it harder for someone to use another person’s Visa card to shop online in the unfortunate event that their Visa card or account number is lost or stolen. Nothem said Mastercard has a similar program.

Kiel staff helps to lead the way

Premier Financial’s staff members at its Kiel office played a key role in launching Verified by Visa for the credit union’s members. Here is how the simple program works: When people pay with their Visa card, the Verified by Visa service launches automatically at participating online stores. After the person enters their Visa card number and submits their order, a Verified by Visa window will appear and the card issuer will display an authentication page. The process requires a password to be entered, but that single step is being viewed by consumers as a tiny bit of work for the benefit of additional protection.

Members have to enroll their Visa card numbers into the program, and the merchants with whom they are shopping have to be part of the program. Nothem said more and more parties on both ends are doing this as fears of security breaches continue to spread.

Visa and other credit cards already have multiple layers of protection, but this adds one more to try to thwart these online criminals. Verified by Visa is designed to protect the Visa card, or cards, that people already have, whether they are credit cards or debit cards.

It is all part of going the extra mile for Premier Financial Credit Union’s members who, after all, are really the owners of the credit union.

Always improving service

At the Kiel office of Premier Financial, the focus in the past year has been working as a team to provide the best possible service to members. As much as possible, cross-training takes place so that if a member stops in or calls to talk to a specific individual and they are busy, someone else can assist just as easily.

“The Kiel staff—and all our offices— has a renewed focus to make sure when we see you, it’s an unforgettable experience,” Nothem said.

He added that Premier Financial began its One Team, One Goal effort in 2012 to try to “step up its game” when it comes to member services. Its “game” was already good, of course, but Nothem said he believes it can always be better. He added, “The Kiel staff enhanced the concept and refocused and recommitted to what they always were doing.”

Training throughout 2013 kept the momentum going, and in April of this year managers of Premier Financial will be attending training in Chicago for even more advanced leadership and member service skills.

Member service has changed over the years, however, as fewer people see the need to stop in at their local credit union because of the advent of online and mobile banking. Premier Financial is far from being the largest financial institution around, yet it provides all the modern financial services people have come to expect. Online banking and bill paying has been available at Premier Financial for years, and mobile services became available during 2013.

The combination of great member service and all the tools members want seems to be working well for Premier Financial. Nothem said compared to all Wisconsin credit unions, Premier Financial did better than most in terms of growth and profitability during 2013. Premier Financial serves members from its offices in Kiel, New Holstein and Chilton—a geographic area which saw virtually no population gain during 2013. Despite that, Premier Financial added 600 new members last year, meaning it is gaining more market share among people looking for a financial institution which will treat them well.

Nothem attributes that growth to taking care of people and not getting complacent, especially with the younger generation which is adept at using mobile devices. “I also think it’s going back to the basics,” he said. “The Kiel staff has particularly embraced those concepts.”

Peggy Goch is the branch manager of the Kiel office. Nancy Boutchard handles member services and loans, and tellers are Lisa Barnes, Renee Curtiss and Christine Kline—the latter two having joined Premier Financial in the past year.

Whether it is at the Kiel branch at 530 Fremont St. (STH 32/57) or any of Premier Financial’s offices, there also is a strong focus on serving the whole family. From sponsoring Easter egg hunts to hosting the Easter bunny, holding a Family Night at New Holstein’s Aquatic Center, having areas for children to play in while mom and/or dad is doing business, or the longtime offering known as the Penny Pouch Club, Premier Financial Credit Union shows interest in taking care of the next generation of credit union members as well as they are taking care of the current ones.