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Groton - Ledge Light Federal Credit Union, long tied to local employees at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc., is changing its name to Scient and branching out with a bold move to become a national brand among life-science workers.
Bruce J. Fafard, president and chief executive of the nearly 15,000-member financial institution, said Monday that the name change to Scient Federal Credit Union will occur Oct. 9. But the strategic shift, he said, began about two years ago and already has been tested by locating small offices at Pfizer facilities in LaJolla, Calif., Andover, Mass., and Cambridge, Mass., as well as with a mobile office in New York City.
"Pfizer has been a very, very strong supporter of us, and we continue to support them," Fafard said in an interview at the credit union's corporate headquarters in Groton. "Our goal is to grow with them."
While Pfizer hasn't been in a growing phase lately, laying off 1,100 Groton employees in the past year alone, Fafard said Ledge Light's assets have been increasing at an 8 percent pace over the past three years as the credit union attempted to maintain its relationships with long-time customers, whether or not they still lived in the area. Pfizer's churning of employees in and out of the Groton laboratories helped introduce new customers to Ledge Light's services, Fafard acknowledged, expanding the institution's membership by an average of nearly 7 percent annually over the past few years.
Fafard said he expects the credit union's strategic shift will create up to 20 new jobs locally over the next few years in areas such as technology support and business development, adding to Ledge Light's current base of 48 employees.
The financial institution, known originally as the Pfizer Employees Federal Credit Union, has about 4,500 affiliate branches nationwide that allow customers to access a full range of services remotely, he said. Ledge Light also has been working hard to add a variety of electronic-banking services for its far-flung membership, which includes international customers.
The new Scient brand, whose tagline is "with you at every phase," already has signed on three life science companies - two in California and one in New Jersey - and expects to approach dozens more, most of them in the range of 500 to 1,500 employees, over the next few years.
"We target life science companies who do not have a credit union," said Cheryl Dunaj, vice president of retail services for the credit union, in an email.
Fafard said Scient initially will be focusing on companies in areas such as San Francisco, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania and the Midwest, including Chicago.
"It's a bold move for them. It's really smart," said Anthony L. Emerson, president of the Credit Union League of Connecticut. "Ledge Light was a great name. But does Ledge Light convey anything to a science facility in California?"
Fafard said focus groups that Ledge Light conducted in California, St. Louis, Chicago, New York City and Massachusetts during the first year of the credit union's rebranding process demonstrated that the institution's local name would not carry much weight outside of coastal New England. Developing a new brand took another year as the credit union winnowed an initial list of 1,200 names down to the half dozen that included the eventual winner, Scient, appropriate for an institution devoted to helping people in the science field with their financial needs.
"It was a name that was strong, it was confident but it also was caring and personal," Fafard said.
"The new logo is outstanding. The name is outstanding," said Emerson of the credit-union association. "It creates more of an affiliation."
Fafard estimated that the credit union's customers are currently about 60 percent local and 40 percent out of town. But he expected that distribution to shift closer to 50-50 in the next few years.
The credit union, which has $222 million in assets, is not confined to a particular geographic area, and therefore is potentially open to life-science workers and their families throughout the country. Life-science workers, who tend to be extremely mobile and often come from foreign countries, frequently need help with such basics as establishing a credit history and buying a car in the United States, Fafard said.
Despite the 44-year-old credit union's new focus on establishing a national brand, Fafard, a Groton resident, vowed that the region's needs would not be forgotten and that any changes made will benefit Scient's membership.
"We will continue to grow here," Fafard said. "We're not forgetting where we come from."
Ledge Light Federal Credit Union, 2009-11:
AVERAGE LOAN GROWTH: 26.11%
ASSET GROWTH: 8.15%
MEMBERSHIP GROWTH: 6.81%
Source: Ledge Light