Tower Federal Credit Union was founded in 1953 when seven people contributed $5 each. Starting small, Tower had a mission to serve the financial needs of the employees of the [unnamed] government agency where those founders worked.

Tower now serves a broader range of people, most of them living in the local communities near Tower’s 16 area branches in Anne Arundel, Howard, Prince George’s and Baltimore counties.

The story of Tower’s roots is still a great story to tell, said Marc Wilensky, Tower’s vice president of communications and brand marketing.

“It’s amazing that a nearly $3 billion credit union started off at that small level,” he said. “This was really a group of coworkers who thought they would pool their resources and help other people in their organization.”

Dan Balkin, Tower’s vice president of Marketing and E-Commerce, added: “And now, we still help the employees of that organization and tens of thousands of other people, too. Providing the same caring approach and high level of service we did at the very beginning is embedded in our culture. Our reason for being is to enhance the financial well-being of our members.”

Expanding Services

Tower’s entrepreneurial roots also resonate with government contractors and high tech companies, said Gail Sanders, manager of business development at Tower. At a recent presentation before the Howard Tech Council’s G5 Roundtable, Sanders talked about Tower’s history. “People identify and align with Tower’s story. It becomes something that makes them feel closer to Tower. A lot of them are in the initial stages of starting their businesses, so this was an interesting insight.”

Over the years, Tower has expanded its array of products and services. Its highest growth area has been auto lending, where its car buying service is paired with a loan process that allows borrowers to visit dealers with a check in hand to buy any vehicle up to the check’s amount. Tower also offers a similar mortgage program and home equity loans, a low-rate credit card with cash-back rewards, free checking with access to thousands of ATMs nationwide, wealth management services and ever-expanding online and mobile banking services and technologies.

What’s been the biggest change in Tower’s services over the years? Certainly over the last couple of decades, online banking has expanded as a major service, said Wilensky. Even more recently, online banking has evolved into mobile banking. “People want to pay their bills and apply for loans using their mobile devices,” he said. “These are the same people who now think online banking on a personal computer or laptop is kind of old-fashioned.”

“E-statements,” or online statements, have become the norm as well, and going “paperless” is both more convenient for customers and better for the environment, he added.

Answering Important Questions

Tower offers financial seminars, and real estate lending sessions are among the most popular, Wilensky said. “For people who are being strategic in their house hunting, or people selling a house, enrolling in a seminar is a great way to find out what’s going on in the neighborhood in terms of real estate. You get answers to questions such as: ‘Are people offering more than the asking price?’ ‘Are homes sitting for 30 or 45 days?’ ‘What impacts different neighborhoods?’ You get some insight and market data.”

Financial literacy is another attribute that Tower nurtures within the community. “A lot of people have questions about their credit report, for example,” said Wilensky. “The more consumers understand, the more educated they are about gaining a better financial position.”

Wilensky used a medical analogy: “If you understand how to eat properly and exercise, your body will respond appropriately. It’s the same financially. People can make intelligent decisions if they truly know what positively or negatively impacts their financial well-being. If you just get online and start reading random articles, you’ll get some inaccurate information. Over the years, we’ve made a point of educating our members. And they stay with us longer because they have a healthy, trusting relationship with us.”

Chamber Involvement Builds Relationships

Tower is also involved with several chambers of commerce, and has been a member of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce since 2005. “The Howard County Chamber serves the business sectors that are important to us. The Chamber is quite active and professional,” said Sanders.

She now serves as an ambassador of the Chamber’s GovConnects program, a business-to-government initiative that enables Chamber members to benefit from the significant growth of the cybersecurity industry and other federal contracting activity in Maryland. “I present information about Tower to those who attend from the contracting and high tech business sectors,” she said. “I also welcome people at various educational programs and workshops.”

Prior to a GovConnects program, she personally calls people to encourage them to participate. “It helps to bump up the attendance, plus I get to know people on a first-name basis,” she said. “A lot of them are in leadership positions — senior managers, CEOs — and those are the people I need to talk to about how we might be able to help their companies by allowing them to offer membership in Tower as a free employee benefit. I can develop relationships with people who are important to Tower.”

Sanders continued, “Just last week I was able to meet the vice president of human resources of one of the area’s largest employers. Since that time we’ve exchanged emails about initiatives to help their employees by offering them financial education and access to the benefits of membership in Tower. I enjoy meeting many interesting people.”