A Truly Local History – Truliant Celebrates its 70th Anniversary

Throughout 2022, Truliant Federal Credit Union is celebrating its 70th anniversary, further solidifying its commitment to its members.

“Truliant has been serving our members and communities in this region since 1952,” said Todd Hall, Truliant’s president and CEO. “It’s fascinating to look at our history to see how Truliant has evolved. We are a proud and humble company with a simple but powerful member-first mission: To provide great service and straightforward financial solutions.”

Truliant was chartered in 1952 to serve the employees of Western Electric. It was called the Radio Shops Federal Credit Union. Initially, the credit union served members in the Triad; it was staffed by Western Electric employees – and cost 25 cents to join.

Today, Truliant serves more than 289,000 members. It has 34 branches in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, more than $3.9 billion in assets, and employs more than 800 employees. What follows are some of the key highlights of its 70-year history.

A Benefit for Workers

Prior to opening a credit union, Western Electric started securing space and laying the groundwork to build multiple manufacturing facilities in the Triad, where it would hire thousands of workers to produce electronics equipment. Quickly, there became a need for these workers to establish credit and save money.

Fred Sarda, a section chief at Western Electric, led a group of employees to form a financial co-op to benefit workers. Radio Shops Federal Credit Union received approval for its charter at the Chatham Road plant in Winston-Salem.

Within three months, the credit union had 1,100 members. Legend has it that early deposits were kept safely in a cigar box.

In 1954, the credit union adopted the first of several name changes: North Carolina Works Federal Credit Union. “Works” was incorporated into the name to recognize Western Electric’s factory network.

By 1962, North Carolina Works had grown to more than 8,000 members due to Western Electric’s continued expansion and the addition of more credit union branches in its facilities.

In 1968, it was the 96th largest federal credit union in the U.S. This wasn’t an insignificant achievement. In 1968, according to the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions’ Annual Report, there were 12,584 federal credit unions in the U.S.

Expanding its Footprint

North Carolina Works began offering credit union memberships in Virginia. By 1975, it was the 42nd largest federal credit union in the U.S. At the end of the 1970s, the credit union had five branch offices in Western Electric facilities, 20 employees and the main office was located at the Lexington Road plant in Winston-Salem. Nationally, there were almost 25 million credit union members.

In 1983, the credit union opened new administrative offices and its first branch – on Waughtown Street – that wasn’t inside a Western Electric facility. But shortly after that the Bell System was broken up, Western Electric was dissolved and AT&T Technologies took over the credit union’s corporate charter.

To reflect this corporate change, the credit union became AT&T Family Federal Credit Union in 1984. It added its first Select Employee Group (SEG), which allowed members who worked at organizations outside the original charter to join.

As other businesses began offering AT&T Family Federal Credit Union’s benefits, it helped seed growth in southwest Virginia and the Charlotte region.

In the late ’80s, as manufacturing waned at AT&T facilities, the credit union transitioned to a consumer brand and expanded its services. At the end of 1988, AT&T Family Federal Credit Union had 11 locations, $212 million in assets, 46,000 members and 40 SEG groups to help broaden its membership base.

The National Stage

In the early 1990s, it built a 50,000-square-foot headquarters at Frontis Plaza in Winston-Salem. The credit union’s growth caught the attention of banks, who viewed it as a threat. Several banks and an industry trade group sued to stop AT&T Family Federal Credit Union’s SEG membership expansion in Asheboro, N.C. in 1990.

A multi-year legal battle followed. The credit union’s then board Chairman Clyde Padgett and then President and CEO Marc Schaefer provided key leadership during the fight. In 1998, the battle ended with a bank victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that credit unions could not have more than one occupational group as their common bond.

The ruling could have forced millions of members to leave credit unions. However, a year earlier, H.R. 1151 – a bill allowing multiple common bonds among members – was introduced in Congress in case credit unions lost at the Supreme Court. After the ruling, it passed both houses of Congress.

On August 7, 1998, H.R. 1151 – the Credit Union Membership Access Act – was signed into law, preserving consumers’ rights to choose their financial institution.

The New Millennium

Soon, AT&T Family changed its name to Truliant, a blend of the words true and reliant. The sunburst logo was created to symbolize Truliant’s enduring commitment to its members. As the 1990s came to an end, Truliant opened more branches, developed its first website, had $800 million in assets and served 550 SEG business partners.

As Truliant celebrated its golden anniversary in 2002, it had 160,000 members and important community ties that deepened the bond with its members.  It then began to further operationalize its member-first approach.

Advisory services were offered; business lending became a focus; and digital services were expanded. In 2005, Truliant surpassed $1 billion in assets and opened its 122,000-square-foot Truliant Way headquarters, where the administrative offices are located today.

Innovative Corporate Culture

As the first decade of the 2000s closed, Truliant introduced one of its most important tools for members: the No-Cost Credit Review. The goal was to help members tackle debt issues and better understand their finances. Another significant addition was the Tru2Go mobile app, giving members fast, secure and flexible access to their accounts.

In 2014, Truliant began adding branch locations in the Charlotte region to expand membership access. Two years later, Truliant surpassed 200,000 members, and credit unions across the U.S. exceeded 100 million members.

The opening of Truliant Academy in 2020 – a modern employee training center at the former Office Depot on Hanes Mall Boulevard – is an additional signal of Truliant’s commitment to making financial tools and financial information available to its members through well-trained employees.

“It’s humbling for me to be the president and CEO of a credit union that has benefitted so many members and had a transformational influence on the ability of credit unions throughout the nation to grow,” Truliant’s Hall said. “Truliant’s Board of Directors and our leadership team are committed to offering powerful financial tools and information so our members can continue to prosper. We will maintain our commitment to be a strong partner in the communities that we serve.”

Vision for the Future

Truliant’s strength is built upon the legacy of its past and the vision for its future. Throughout its history, the credit union has found new ways to engage with its members and to grow partnerships in the communities it serves.

In today’s always-on digital world, Truliant is expanding the reach of its financial education efforts with the launch of Money Burst.  Truliant is partnering with personal finance expert Chris Browning, host of the nationally recognized Popcorn Finance podcast, which is dedicated to helping listeners understand their finances better.

Money Burst, sponsored by Truliant, features Browning in useful short videos with tips and hacks to make managing money easier. The goal is to reach consumers by providing easily digestible information in an entertaining way – primarily in their social media feed. In the series, Browning speaks directly to the audience, offering knowledge and fast takes on how viewers can get their personal finances in order.

As Truliant has grown, so too has its commitment to its members and the diverse communities they represent. In 2021, it established the Truliant Foundation to expand on the ‘People Helping People’ philosophy of credit unions and a legacy of helping under-served populations. The first program at the Truliant Foundation was a financial assistance fund for employees experiencing financial hard-ship. This fund started with donations from 100 percent of its senior leadership and matching funds from Truliant.

As the Foundation’s first major gift, it contributed to the Winston-Salem State University Foundation to support North Carolina’s Mathematics and Science Education Network (NC-MSEN) program. The gift is being used by the historically black university to eliminate disparities in education and to prepare middle and high school students for careers requiring math and science.

To stay competitive, having an outsider’s view can be highly beneficial. The credit union works with organizations like the Bryan School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, which provides Truliant with intellectual firepower to understand its business better and solve vexing challenges.

New markets are essential for Truliant’s growth. It added locations in Graham and High Point last year. An Upstate South Carolina expansion is underway, and Truliant will soon complete the renovation of a regional office near downtown Greenville to provide operational support for planned new branches.

Truliant will add more than 100 new jobs in 2022, the result of expanding services across its three-state footprint. The jobs are a mix of remote, hybrid and in-person roles. The hiring initiative comes from a desire to create the best experience for its members.

To support its growing digital and physical footprint, Truliant will open a new Operations Center at Hanes Mall, an adaptive reuse project that will provide a high-quality work environment for employees. The location will incorporate state-of-the-art design features, providing a modern, collaborative work environment that furthers its emphasis on innovation, creativity and learning.

It will feature an on-site 352 kilowatt solar installation that will be comprised of 880 solar panels. Truliant will use the power it produces from the panels and plans to activate the solar installation this fall.

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