Advanced Financial Federal Credit Union: Innovation at Bell Labs Drives Credit Union Success in Local Communities

The credit union movement was founded on the philosophy of “people helping people”, with many of these financial institutions founded by working class citizens who saw a need amongst their colleagues for fair, convenient financial services.

Advanced Financial Federal Credit Union not only exists to serve its members through that philosophy, but they were born out of one of the largest and most innovative corporations in America, which was also operated with the “people helping people” frame of mind: Bell Labs.

It is not an overstatement to say that Bell Labs, a historic research facility based in New Jersey, had more to do with changing the lives of billions of people around the world: it was the birthplace of inventions as diverse as cellular phones, the laser, the transistor, and more.

From the start of Bell Telephone Labs Credit Union to now, the history and impact Bell Labs had on society left a mark on the credit union world as well. “When you talk about the credit union and where it comes from, you must highlight the amazing contribution of inventions that Bell Labs has produced, too,” said Alan Feigenbaum. “Without them, we wouldn’t have many of our modern products that we all take for granted.”

At its Murray Hill, N.J., location, three of its researchers—Harry Noll, Ellsworth Rand, and George Ehrhart—established what would become known as Bell Telephone Labs Credit Union in April of 1965. At the time, Bell Labs was a very large organization, with over 14,000 employees; about 6 percent were in the formal Research Area, where Noll, Rand, and Ehrhart worked. Taking responsibility for the credit union’s main operations, Noll carried everything in a briefcase and would go from member to member in the Research Area during lunchtime and take their deposits.

At first, the credit union did not provide any loans, just offered deposits and withdrawals. But as time went on, members turned to the credit union primarily for their lending needs, which weren’t being met by any other financial institution. Among its first members were part of the Communication Members of America, a union that represents workers in the fields of telecommunications, information technology, media, education, healthcare, and more.

In the early 1970s, the credit union opened up to other parts of the lab beyond the Research Area, which drew great interest from other Bell Labs employees. But it was when the credit union decided to move from the labs and become more independent—and renamed itself Advanced Financial Federal Credit Union in 1984—that business really expanded.

A key contributor to the success of Advanced Financial FCU is Bob McAnally, one of the credit union’s very first members and who is still involved with the credit union to this day. McAnally started at the credit union as a Credit Committee Member because it gave him the opportunity to work with people he knew and he found it “interesting.” He served as a board member for 25 years. He now serves as Chairman of the Nomination Committee.

Bob McAnally, Advanced Financial FCU Nomination Committee Chairman (left)
and David Frankil, President/CEO of the New Jersey Credit Union League.

“Bob is very importance to us at the credit union because he's always been involved and has been a member since we were formed,” said Advanced Financial FCU President/CEO Alan Feigenbaum. “He's a positive, pleasant person with a good understanding of the credit union movement.”

The credit union has grown to make an impact beyond its original field of membership as well, expanding to serve its local communities. In 2002, the credit union obtained a community charter, allowing it serve to all of Union County, and the in 2017, expanded further to include neighboring Essex County, N.J. The credit union now serves those who live, work, worship and/or attend school in, and businesses and other legal entities in, both Union County and Essex County, New Jersey.

“We are now able to bring community-focused financial services to neighboring Essex County,” Feigenbaum said of the expansion. “We already serve Blue Cross Blue Shield employees who work in Newark, N.J. This most recent expansion will allow us to bring more services to existing members, as well as to expand services to the entire Essex County community.”

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