Brunswick credit union turns 75 on philosophy of saving

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BRUNSWICK — What started as an idea 75 years ago at St. John the Baptist Parish is now worth more than $300 million.

Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, originally St. John’s Federal Credit Union, is much different today than when it was founded by 37 parishioners in 1941, President and Chief Executive Officer Roger Sirois said.

But the core mission, he said in an interview Tuesday, “has stayed the same.”

In the 1940s, the Rev. William Dauphin floated the idea of forming a credit union among his parishioners. He believed, according to Atlantic Regional’s website, that a group of people of modest economic means could form a larger pool, through regular systematic savings, and then make loans at a fairer cost.

In its first three years, St. John’s Federal Credit Union grew to 171 members and accumulated deposits of almost $6,000. A woman named Anna Tetreault ran the credit union out of her house until 1944, until another member, Jeannette Morin, took it over from her own home.

“It’s through their leadership and vision that we are where we are after 75 years,” Sirois said.

St. John’s Federal Credit Union changed its name to Atlantic Regional in 2000 to reflect its broader membership base. Today it has 19,500 members. It also has more than $300 million in assets, according to its latest filing with the National Credit Union Administration.

Sirois attributes part of that growth to the founders’ core philosophy of saving over maximizing profit.

Atlantic Regional’s ratio of assets to net worth – a measurement of the credit union’s solvency – is nearly 14 percent, or double what is required by the NCUA.

The credit union has also stayed ahead of the curve in terms of mobile banking, Sirois said, and through agreements with other credit unions in Maine, is part of the largest ATM network in the state.

Furthermore, through “shared branching” with credit unions across the country, “I could go to Florida, or California, and go and do a transaction just like I’m at an Atlantic branch,” Sirois said.

“Banks aren’t doing that … we are,” he added.

But on the other hand, credit unions like Atlantic Regional are doing what banks do, Sirois said.

“We’re doing business lending, mortgage lending … ” he said. “Atlantic is here to help people do better with their financial position, whether it’s today or whether it’s into the future.”

Atlantic now has branches in Brunswick, Topsham, Freeport and Cumberland, and serves members in Cumberland and Sagadahoc counties.

When asked if Anna Tetreault would today recognize the credit union she ran out of her home three-quarters of a century ago, Sirois paused.

“I think she would,” he said.

Walter Wuthmann can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or wwuthmann@theforecaster.net. Follow Walter on Twitter: @wwuthmann.

Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, based at 55 Cushing St., Brunswick, marked 75 years in business this month.

Roger Sirois

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Brunswick/Harpswell reporter for The Forecaster. Bowdoin College grad, San Francisco Bay Area native. Follow for municipal, school, community, and environmental news from the Midcoast.