The South College Ent Credit Union service center in Fort Collins opened in December. Courtesy Ent Credit Union

For NoCo expansion, Ent justifies the means

When Colorado Springs-based Ent Credit Union, already the state’s largest, considered a major expansion into Northern Colorado, it knew the competition would be fierce.

Established credit unions such as Elevations, Premier, Canvas and Blue already had large customer bases, and new banks seemed to be popping up every month — even as government restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic made doing business more challenging than ever.

Ent, however, has been undeterred, and expects a bright future along the northern Front Range.

“It really boils down to the loyalty and migration of our existing members,” many of whom had moved north from Colorado Springs, said Fred Jacobs, Ent’s senior manager for media relations and sponsorships. “As they have moved along the Front Range, they’ve been asking when we would be opening centers near them. We’ve spent the past few years planning the introduction of all of these new centers in new markets to serve them and, hopefully, to allow them to introduce us to their friends and neighbors. We actually had several thousand members in Larimer County before we ever opened a service center up here.”

Already with a branch — Ent calls them “service centers” — near Interstate 25 and Colorado Highway 119 in Firestone, the credit union opened a location in early 2020 at 2018 Prairie Center Parkway in Brighton. It opened its first Fort Collins location at 243 N. College Ave. last summer. In November came a service center with a drive-through at 4521 Weitzel St., near I-25 and Harmony Road in Timnath, and another at 4300 S. College Ave. (I-25 and Harmony by Wal-Mart) last month and the South Fort Collins service center at 4300 S. College Ave. at Troutman Parkway in south Fort Collins in early December.

Construction will begin this spring on Ent locations at 1107 W. Drake Road in Fort Collins and 103 E. 71st St. at U.S. Highway 287 in north Loveland. Both are scheduled to open in the second half of 2021, Jacobs said, as is one at 4800 W. 121st St. in Broomfield.

All service centers are following COVID-19 guidelines, said Jeff Cook, manager at the Timnath location. “Between our smartphone app, online banking and the safety protocols in place in our lobbies and drive-through, we are truly here to assist members and non-members alike based on their comfort levels and the way they would like to conduct their transaction, talk to a specialist or open their accounts.”

Rich Scholes, the credit union’s chief experience officer, told BizWest in July that Ent’s real estate strategy prioritizes buying the properties where new branches will be built rather than leasing space from a landlord.

“Leasing is acceptable, but we’d much prefer to own,” Scholes told BizWest reporter Lucas High. “We’re in this for the next 40 years, so the math works better” when the credit union owns its buildings outright. “Capital isn’t a challenge,” he said. “We’ve been saving for 60 years, and we’ve got a lot of excess capital.”

Ent officials hope the credit union’s size and features can make it stand out in Northern Colorado, along with features such as Interactive Teller Machines. According to Ent’s marketing materials, the ITM “combine the convenience of typical ATMs with the functionality of a live person to assist with your transaction.”

It also hopes community service makes a good impression.

The year “2020 has presented a unique set of challenges that has necessitated an unprecedented level of giving in our state,” said Chad Graves, Ent’s chief executive. “Though Ent is relatively new in Northern Colorado, our commitment to the communities we serve is as strong as it has been for the past 63 years.”

In November, as devastating wildfires in Northern Colorado’s mountains neared containment, Ent launched a $50,000 donation match campaign for the local United Way’s Larimer County Fire Recovery Fund.

To help commercial customers deal with the impact of the pandemic, Ent sought nominations for small businesses that would share cash infusions totaling $50,000. It also offered emergency business loans, doubled its business line-of-credit limit and offered assistance programs to corporate banking members.

“I’ve said it before, but as this pandemic progresses, I feel it’s worth repeating. At times like these, I am especially thankful we are a not-for-profit financial institution,” Graves said.”This allows us the flexibility to do what is in everyone’s best interest rather than what’s best for the bottom line.”

It’s also offering live online webinars. One, set for 4:30 p.m. Jan. 13, will focus on how to lead and manage during a pandemic. Another, slated for 10 a.m. Feb. 6, will offer advice to first-time homebuyers.

Founded in 1957 to serve what then was called Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, the credit union has grown to more than 400,000 members, more than 43 locations and more than $7 billion in assets.

Jacobs said he has been struck by the “familial approach” among Northern Colorado credit unions. “They all work to boost each other.

“Of course we hope customers will choose Ent,” he said, “but even if they go with Elevations or Blue or Canvas, we’re happy that they’re choosing a credit union.”