Norcross-based Associated Credit Union opened its doors for a soft launch last week and offered the community a sneak peek into its new offices on Dawson Forest Road.
Dawson County's only credit union, ACU now occupies the former building of Appalachian Community Bank at 4300 Dawson Forest Road near the Walmart.
The branch opened June 26 for a soft opening and on June 29 held a Member Company Appreciation Day where staff gave tours of the facility and hosted a hotdog and hamburger cook out.
Branch Service Representative Matt Wall said that he and the rest of the team are very happy to be expanding their reach to Dawson, as most of the ACU branches are concentrated in the metro area.
"We have branches as far east as Augusta and as far west as Carrolton, and now as far north as Dawsonville," Wall said.
He also explained the difference between a credit union and a bank for those curious about their services.
The main difference is that credit unions are owned by their members and not owned by stakeholders, which is the case with banks.
"With a bank, being a public organization, their main job is to look out for their stakeholders. And with a credit union, we're a non-profit organization," Wall said. "So what happens is when someone comes in and opens a membership, you open what's called a share account, which is a savings account, and that means that you own a share of the credit union."
Wall also said that because the ACU is non-profit, typically their fees are lower, they have less fees and their membership experience is way better than with a bank.
The primary mission of the ACU, Wall said, is to serve the underserved.
"Mainly our philosophy is what is very different from banks," he said. "For people that are just starting out or looking to buy their first car, where they might get declined from a larger financial institution because they are considered high risk, [credit unions] typically lend and assist those members."
The credit union also has typical accounts like savings, checking, money markets and time deposit accounts.
Also at the celebration was Connie Smith, who is the branch manager.
Smith worked in the building as branch manager when it was occupied by Appalachian Community Bank, and said she has worked in the financial industry in the Dawson and Forsyth area for 30 years.
"I'm totally excited about the career change to be in the credit union," Smith said. "It's a wonderful opportunity to serve the community, for me. That's my passion."
Mark Waller, executive vice president and chief operations officer for the branch, said that credit unions are ingrained in the communities in which they are located.
"The credit union principle is we feel we are only as healthy as the communities we work in," Waller said. "And so we have a vested interest in doing for our communities the things that help to make their lives financially sound."
The branch will have five full time employees and two part time employees, and will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday starting June 10, with a goal to eventually operate on Saturdays as well.