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Los Angeles Firemen's Credit Union

When it comes to handling coins, few credit unions in the nation have the depth of experience that Los Angeles Firemen's Credit Union (LAFCU) has. Their sole branch in Los Angeles is a veritable hot bed of coin counting as members pour in with large quantities of loose change.  A sole SEG (select employee group) serving only firefighters and their families, LAFCU’s active firefighting members utilize a long standing firefighter’s tradition called “house dues” which is a communal method of paying for their expenses while living at the fire station for days on end. These house dues involve a lot of change which is continually brought into the credit union for redemption. With so many members streaming into their branch on a daily basis with large quantities of coins, it is no wonder that LAFCU turned to the world’s most recognized and reliable coin counting provider: Coinstar.

Richard Romero, Chief Operations Officer at LAFCU, is the right person to talk to about handling coins and credit union operations in general since he has over 22 years of hands-on banking experience, including five years at LAFCU. Romero recalls starting off his career as a part time teller: “As a teller I dreaded dealing with coins because they were so time consuming to handle. We did not even have back office coin sorters in those days.” Fast forward a few years, and most credit unions had installed coin sorters in their back office. But according to Romero, “that did little to alleviate the labor intensive nature of dealing with change. Tellers had to close down their window and go in the back to dump and bag the coins.” Compounding the problem is the fact that dual control is needed when handling cash – two employees needed to be present while counting and sorting the coins!

Of course, there are also the negative member service issues of having teller windows offline during busy days, especially paydays. Back in 2000, LAFCU was determined to find a better way to use their valuable tellers and provide a great member experience in the branch. It was a fairly easy decision to settle on Coinstar since they have been in the coin sorting business since 1992. Romero confirms that “like most people, I was quite familiar with Coinstar’s coin counting kiosks because I had used their machines at my local supermarket for years.” In action, members simply dump their coins into the machine, receive a voucher and collect their money at the teller. At times, more than coins get dumped into the unit, but Romero just laughs and says that “we’re not sure what all goes into the machines, but we know that we have never had an issue with servicing or reliability when it comes to working with Coinstar.”  Coinstar’s patented technology allows coins to be differentiated from miscellaneous debris.

Since firefighters live at the fire station for a few days, then have a few days off, many of them are entrepreneurs with their own business. Some have vending routes, while others own Laundromats or other small businesses. Romero emphasizes that “our branch receives very heavy coin sorting usage and our members really appreciate that we provide this service to them at no cost.” Even though the Coinstar machines were managing the high volume of coins they continued to perform flawlessly and their service was stellar. It was with hesitation that the credit union had to make a budget saving decision to bring in their own coin sorting machine, the results of which were less than satisfactory.  Romero notes that “we experienced constant down time and maintenance issues with our own machines.” The credit union quickly renewed their good relationship with Coinstar, and Romero is pleased to report that “our branch staff is elated to have Coinstar back and so are our members.”

As head of an $890M credit union’s operations, Romero can attest to the operational efficiencies that come from partnering with Coinstar. He points out that “not only does it save tremendously on labor costs, but we receive unlimited courier runs to pick up our coins. Plus we do not have to worry about Worker’s Compensation claims from our employees since they never handle the heavy bags of coins.” Coinstar’s machines are very high tech – they feature network connectivity, automatic alerting and remote monitoring 24 x 7. Romero said that “we love the fact that they manage every aspect of the machine.” He concludes that “everything is handled very professionally and we have been very pleased with them. I would highly recommend Coinstar’s service over do-it-yourself options, regardless of how attractive they look on paper, to any credit union looking to streamline their operations and improve member service.” 

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