Dec. 18, 2012 08:46 PM

Advancial Federal Credit Union opens second Lafayette office.

When driving south on Johnston Street past the Mall of Acadiana, you can't help but notice an impressive white stone building topped with a stucco clock tower and fronted with a spectacular fountain. Upon entering the lobby, you are mesmerized by an aquarium-like bubble wall with lights that change colors seasonally. Once fully inside, you see blue-green granite countertops, plush purple bergere chairs and an intricate wood-beamed ceiling, resembling the interior of a luxurious lodge. What is this place? It is the new location of

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Photo by Robin May

Advancial Federal Credit Union, which opened its doors on Oct. 22 and held its opening celebration on Dec. 14.

Advancial's latest 5,387-square-foot branch is its second brick-and-mortar location in the state. Located at 6154 Johnson St., its unique design by Gahl Architecture of Dallas is alone worth visiting the branch. Advancial's first building, which opened in 2006 at 306 E. Kaliste Saloom Road, also lured curious bystanders inside with its large aquarium and multicolored stone tower.

Launched in 1937, Advancial is more than just a federal credit union - it's a full-service financial institution offering savings and investment services, checking accounts, loans, credit cards and ATMs. "We are one of the top 200 credit unions in the country," says Arlene LeBlanc, business relations manager for the Acadiana area.

Advancial encourages youth savings through its Money Musketeers Club, an account for members 12 and under, and Dinero Teens for members 13 to 18. "We offer a lot of incentives for kids to open a savings account and be rewarded along the way," LeBlanc says. "So, it teaches them very young that savings is rewarding." The branch also offers an iPad tower for children to enjoy while their parents are doing their financial business.

Beginning as the credit union for Atlantic Richfield Company, Advancial opened up its membership to other businesses in oil-centered locations, including Dallas, Houston, Alaska and Oklahoma. Advancial was a natural fit for Acadiana, where the community-chartered credit union has had a presence since 1985. "You are eligible to become a member just by the community you live in, which is an eight parish-wide area," explains Jackie Armentor, branch manager of the new South Lafayette location. These parishes are Lafayette, Vermilion, Acadia, Iberia, St. Landry, St. Martin, Evangeline and Avoyelles.

Armentor started at Advancial's original Kaliste Saloom Road location in 2006. After a two-year hiatus, she returned to Advancial in 2008. "I really love Advancial," she says. "I totally believe in the credit union."

When planning the new location, Advancial researched the demographics of its customers. "We wanted to make it more convenient for the members that were already in this area, but yet, to also build the membership growth here in the surrounding parishes, such as Vermilion and Acadia, which are very close," Armentor says. "We have future plans for other branches as well."

Advancial differs from a bank in that it is a not-for-profit, meaning members receive profits in the form of generous saving returns, reasonable loan rates and lower service fees. "Our members are actually shareholders in their own financial institution," LeBlanc explains. "So, they have a lot more say-so about the services we offer."

Advancial's philosophy is "savings first." A mere $5 will open a savings account with the credit union. Advancial's free checking accounts require no minimum and have no service charges. "You can bring your checking account balance down to one penny and never be charged a service charge," LeBlanc says. "Our rates are phenomenal for auto loans, and we have some of the highest rates paid out in dividends. It's just a different way of servicing people. We have our members' best interest at heart because we are not-for-profit."

Because of its state-of-the-art online services, the institution has few stand-alone locations in other areas. But, Advancial realized that people in Acadiana do things differently. "In Acadiana, people like to do business with people they see and know," LeBlanc observes.

"One thing that we are so proud of is that we know our members. We call them out by name when they walk in the door. Customers like that the people that have their money know them."

So much so that Advancial recently received the Integrity award from the local Better Business Bureau. "To me, that is the highest honor because of what it stands for - that people trust us, and they know we have integrity," LeBlanc says.

The credit union's Net Promoter Score - which is obtained by asking customers to rate, on a 0 to 10 rating scale, how likely it is that they would recommend the credit union to a colleague, family member or friend - is almost 93 percent.

The unique design of the two Advancial buildings catches the attention of customers. "We've gotten comments from our customers that they feel so at home here," LeBlanc says. "And that's at a financial institution. It really is unusual to hear those kinds of comments.

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